US, Turkish delegations meet over visa crisis

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published 16.10.2017 23:52

A U.S. delegation arrived in Turkey yesterday and is expected to hold a meeting with Turkish representatives today, amid aims to find a solution to the recent visa dispute over Turkey's detention of a U.S. Consulate staff member for suspected links to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which was responsible for the July 15 coup attempt last year.

According to diplomatic sources, the U.S. delegation is headed by U.S. State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Jonathan Cohen and the Turkish delegation is headed by the Foreign Ministry's undersecretary, Ahmet Muhtar Gün. Yesterday, after landing in Ankara's Esenboğa Airport, Cohen answered a question presented by a journalist on the issue by stating that he is not the one who determines any of the decisions.

Ankara and Washington recently suspended non-immigrant visa services at missions in their respective countries following the detention of Metin Topuz, a longstanding U.S. Consulate employee and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent at the Istanbul Bureau, for his alleged links to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a phone discussion over the issue last week, while Gün also spoke with former U.S. ambassador to Ankara John Bass. Despite recent discussions, a solution to the crisis has yet to be reached.

Meanwhile, the recent assignment of Bass as ambassador to Afghanistan means U.S. Embassy Deputy Secretary Philip Kosnett will serve as the diplomatic representative for the U.S. in Turkey until the appointment of a new ambassador.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed Bass for what he called his role in the suspension of non-immigrant visa services at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Turkey, railing that he is not considered the U.S. representative in Turkey anymore.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and opposition parties have taken a unified stance in response to the visa crisis. Political factions have agreed that the U.S. has implemented measures that are wrong and contrary to the alliance between the two countries. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said Tuesday that Turkey will not seek permission from the U.S. regarding the detainment or prosecution of suspects, criticizing the NATO ally for suspending visa applications in response to Turkey's detention of a terrorist suspect.

Chairman of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, also said that the U.S. is causing a virtual crisis with the visa decision and Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also said that what the U.S. did was wrong and that he does not support it.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Turkey released a statement yesterday, saying that Turkish citizens in need of medical treatment and have emergencies may apply for the U.S. visa.

Topuz, the arrested consulate employee, has been linked in an investigation to a number of FETÖ suspects, including police commissioners and former Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, a fugitive accused of attempting to overthrow the government through the use of force, according to a judicial source who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said Sunday that all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic missions in Turkey have been suspended following Topuz's arrest.

Ankara retaliated by halting the processing of visa applications from the U.S. The move, announced online by the Turkish Embassy in Washington, affects visas in passports, electronic visas and visas at the borders, and was implemented immediately.

On Monday, Turkish authorities issued an arrest warrant for another staffer working at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul. The employees wife and two children were detained by police. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office said that the suspect, identified by his initials N.M.C. and who does not have diplomatic immunity, was called on for testimony. His family was detained in the central province of Amasya, the office added. Reports in the Turkish media claimed that the other suspect was located at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, which Bass rejected.

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