US and Turkey suspend nonimmigrant visa services
On Sunday, the U.S. mission in Turkey suspended its nonimmigrant visa services in the country and, hours later, Turkey announced a reciprocal suspension. The U.S. measure was in response to the arrest of U.S. consulate staff member Metin Topuz last week. Topuz, a Turkish national, was arrested and charged with espionage, trying to overthrow Turkey’s government and acting against the Turkish Constitution. Turkey believes Topuz has links to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating a failed military coup in July 2016.
In a statement, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass announced the suspension and said, “we have been unable to determine … what if any, evidence exists against [Topuz].” He added, “we don’t know … if we should expect other Turkish staff members to be arrested for simply speaking to Turkish government officials or the wider Turkish public in the course of their duties.”
The visa suspensions affect students, business travellers, tourists and diplomats, among others. According to a U.S. official, all current visas remain valid and, while visa services in Turkey are suspended, Turkish citizens can still apply for U.S. visas in other countries. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said its suspension included electronic visas and those purchased at the border. The suspension does not appear to be enforced yet at Turkey’s borders, according to The New York Times.
On Monday, Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu said Turkey’s Foreign Ministry had summoned the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Philip Kosnett, the top U.S. official currently physically present in Turkey, and asked for the U.S. embassy to reverse the suspension.
The U.S. and Turkey currently disagree on other issues, including:
- The attempted military coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government in July 2016. Turkey holds Gulen responsible for orchestrating the failed coup. The U.S. has refused to extradite him, with U.S. officials saying the evidence against Gulen is insufficient.
- The war in Syria. The U.S. is allied with the Syrian Kurds against the Islamic State group. Turkey objects to this alliance because the Syrian Kurds are connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. Both the U.S. and Turkey deem the PKK a “terrorist organization.”
The U.S. State Department has also been critical of Erdoğan’s government, citing human rights violations and irregularities in the referendum to amend the Turkish Constitution earlier this year. The State Department also cited “troubling judicial and law enforcement actions” by the Turkish government after it raided the offices of newspapers like Zaman last year and placed them under state control. President Barack Obama, as well as other world leaders, also reportedly expressed concerns about the treatment of more than 6,000 Turkish soldiers arrested in July 2016 on suspicion of plotting the attempted coup.