U.S., Turkey restart issuing visas but tensions over detentions fester

ANKARA (Reuters) - The United States partially resumed issuing visas in Turkey on Monday after getting what it said were assurances about the safety of staff at its missions following a number of detentions.

A woman waits in front of the visa application office entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The Turkish embassy in Washington said almost immediately it would match the move, although it denied there had been any assurances.

It called the U.S. move a positive development, noting it was announced on the eve of a visit to the United States by Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

The U.S. embassy said that despite its move it remained deeply concerned over the detention of two of its locally employed staff at diplomatic missions in Turkey, and the fate of U.S. citizens arrested under a state of emergency in force since a failed coup last year.

The arrest of a veteran employee at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul a month ago led the United States to suspend all non-immigrant visa services while it assessed the security of its staff in Turkey.

Within hours of the U.S. announcement on Oct. 8, Turkey said it was implementing reciprocal measures and President Tayyip Erdogan later angrily accused Washington of sacrificing a longstanding alliance with Ankara.

“We have received initial high-level assurances from the government of Turkey that there are no additional local employees of our mission in Turkey under investigation,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

“We have also received initial assurances from the government of Turkey that our local staff will not be detained or arrested for performing their official duties.”

Hours later, however, the Turkish embassy said it had not given the United States any assurances, and that any decision regarding legal procedures on U.S. mission workers would be left to Turkey’s judiciary.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

“The personnel in question employed by the U.S. has been the subject of a judicial process not because of his official duties, but because of very serious charges against him,” it said in a statement.

It also said a reference to the security conditions of U.S. missions in Turkey in the U.S. embassy’s statement was “considered odd” and did not reflect the truth.

News of the partial resumption, reported by Reuters earlier, had helped the lira TRYTOM=D3 strengthen to 3.8356 to the dollar from 3.8708 beforehand.


In May, a translator at the U.S. consulate in the southern province of Adana was arrested and, more recently, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) worker was detained in Istanbul. Both are accused of links to last year’ failed coup. The U.S. embassy has said the accusations are baseless.

Turkish officials have said police want to question a third worker based in Istanbul. His wife and daughter were detained over alleged links to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for orchestrating the abortive putsch. They were later released.

Turkey has been angered by what it sees as U.S. reluctance to hand over Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999. U.S. officials have said courts require sufficient evidence to order his extradition.

Gulen denies any involvement in the failed coup.

Erdogan has also lashed out at the United States after prosecutors there charged a former Turkish economy minister and the ex-head of a state-owned bank with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran by illegally moving hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system on Tehran’s behalf.

The charges stem from an ongoing case against Reza Zarrab, a wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was arrested in the United States over sanctions evasion last year. Zarrab, who is due to go on trial this month, has pleaded not guilty. Erdogan has said U.S. prosecutors have “ulterior motives” in that case, by including references to him and his wife in court papers.

In their statement, the Turkish embassy said Turkey had “serious concerns” about legal cases concerning its citizens in the United States, and added that Turkish and U.S. officials would continue to hold meetings to resolve the cases in a “satisfactory” manner.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay Additional reporting by Ercan Gurses, Tulay Karadeniz and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan, Dominic Evans