Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the US should immediately withdraw its ambassador if he failed to consult with his superiors over a decision to suspend visa services, saying he doesn’t regard the envoy as an American representative and won’t accept his farewell visit. “I find the lack of consultation by senior US authorities with our foreign minister awkward,” Erdogan said in televised remarks in Belgrade, Serbia. “If the ambassador acted on his own, then the US administration should not keep him there for a minute.”
While the White House and State Department stayed silent over the latest crisis to roil ties between the NATO allies, US ambassador John Bass late issued an unusual video statement on YouTube saying he hasn’t been told why a Turkish employee working for the US was arrested last week, the second such detention this year. The embassy stopped issuing non-immigrant visas in Turkey, a NATO ally and key trading partner, in a move that sent markets falling and prompted a retaliatory response by Turkish authorities. Bass has been tapped by President Donald Trump as the next US ambassador to Afghanistan.
By pinning the blame on the ambassador, Erdogan could be trying to find a way out of the crisis while saving face, said Timothy Ash, senior emerging-markets sovereign strategist at Bluebay Asset Management in London. And Trump may be willing to “throw Bass under the bus for the sake of US-Turkish relations,” Ash said.
Erdogan also rebuffed criticism of Turkey’s arrest of the consulate employee, alleging he had ties to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of masterminding of last year’s coup attempt.
“The information that a second person is there shows something is going on at the consulate in Istanbul,” the president said, adding that the US should evaluate how these “agents” infiltrated the mission or who placed them there.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim earlier said Turkey didn’t need the consent of US authorities to prosecute its own citizens working
at American diplomatic posts in
“Turkey is a state ruled by law, Yildirim told lawmakers of his governing AK Party in parliament on Tuesday. “Does working at an American mission bring any immunity to anyone accused of committing a crime?” Channels of communication were available to help solve the impasse, Yildirim said.
Turkey’s ties with US have frayed following a failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016. The US has refused to extradite Gulen, citing a lack of evidence. In the following purge, about 110,000 alleged supporters of Gulen have been removed from state jobs; banks, businesses and media outlets were seized or shut down; tens of thousands, including army officers, academics and journalists, remain in detention.
The two countries have also feuded over US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, which Ankara says are aligned with the outlawed PKK group at home.
Yildirim touched on both grievances in his address in Ankara. “Why you are still harboring Gulen, does it bind with being an ally?” he said. If our alliance is to continue, “you should stop protecting the PYD-YPG, cousins of the PKK in Syria.” He also alluded to the detention in the US of Halkbank deputy CEO Mehmet Hakan Atilla for allegedly conspiring to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through the US financial system on behalf of Iran. “Did you ask us when you forcibly jailed the deputy manager of one of our state banks in your country?” Yildirim said. A former Turkish government minister and other senior executives Halkbank were also charged in the case.
Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said he had rejected a meeting request from Bass.