The so-called visa spat between Turkey and the United States ended to some extent last Monday with a statement by the U.S. acknowledging a partial return to visa services in Turkey.
The crisis, which erupted after a court decision to arrest a veteran Turkish staff member of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, has been going on for over a month. Metin Topuz was arrested on charges of aiding and abetting the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).
Senior Turkish officials tried to reach out to their U.S. counterparts immediately after the suspension of visa services, yet no one picked the phone up in Washington, partly due to Columbus Day. My sense is that American officials purposefully took this step on Sunday, Oct. 8 to deepen the impact.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first calmly received the visa news, but with the absence of direct contact he in time became frustrated and publicly vented his anger on then U.S. Ambassador John Bass.
The following phone call between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu wasn't pleasant either. Çavuşoğlu protested his counterpart due to the absence of an early notice on the visa decision. Tillerson was also unhappy. He reminded Çavuşoğlu of some past American gestures such as allowing him to visit Sinan Narin and Eyüp Yıldırım in prison, both in U.S. custody due to a brawl that took place during Erdoğan's last visit to Washington. Tillerson said the U.S. was expecting Turkey to return the favor, but instead Turkey was taking actions against U.S. missions.
However Çavuşoğlu's point has merit. Because the two top diplomats previously had another phone call on Oct. 6, ahead of the visa crisis, and Tillerson didn't give Turkey a heads up to take some steps to alleviate U.S. complaints such as the lack of U.S. consular access to dual Turkish-American citizens.
But why were American officials so hasty to implement this kind of a soft sanction? Various sources said Ambassador Bass, and particularly Turkey desk officers in Washington and former U.S. diplomats, were furious at Turkish officials due to the arrests of long-time Turkish nationals. Bass believed he had used every way to convince Turkish officials to prevent Topuz's arrest and obviously failed. He and other Turkey officers wanted to use this step as a last resort, as a wake up call for Ankara.
So what has Turkey exactly done to resolve this crisis? First Turkey provided the dossiers regarding the charges against the arrested Turkish members of the U.S. missions. Second, Turkish officials reassured Americans that as of October, there weren't any other investigations targeting any other Turkish staff members. Third, they plainly said that these people weren't arrested due to their official conduct and reassured the U.S. delegation led by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan Cohen that they were going to open more channels to inform Americans about these legal issues, possibly before issuing future arrest warrants. And last, Turkey permitted U.S. consular access to dual Turkish-American citizens in custody.
The American officials were encouraged by these steps, but their main demand was to release Metin Topuz, either with a condition that includes intensive probation or home detention, pending charges. The Turkish government simply refused this option, saying legally or diplomatically the Turkish Foreign Ministry or the government cannot make a deal with a foreign government for the release of a Turkish National from prison.
"We are not the judiciary. We cannot order a court to release Metin Topuz," a Turkish official said.
But Americans didn't buy this argument. They pushed for Topuz's release for almost two weeks. Eventually Americans were forced to find a middle ground because of a pressing development: Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım was scheduled to visit Washington. And both sides didn't want the visa crisis to overshadow Yıldırım's visit. Then, the U.S. Embassy's announcement on the reinstatement of visa services on a limited basis came.
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