Departing US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass issued a statement on Monday regarding the US decision to suspend non-immigrant visa services at its missions in Turkey, saying that resolution of the situation depends on the Turkish government’s commitment to protecting US facilities and personnel in the country.
In his statement, released on the US Embassy & Consulates in Turkey website, the departing ambassador said: “Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities. Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee. The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens. Furthermore, our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.”
Regarding the accusations of espionage leveled against the employee, Bass said: “Let me be clear: Strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job. Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties, and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.”
In his statement, the ambassador also stated that this decision is not a visa ban on Turkish citizens but a suspension of new visa applications made in Turkey. Bass underlined that “if you [Turkish citizens] have a valid visa, you can still travel to the United States. If you want to apply for a visa at another US embassy or consulate outside of Turkey, you are free to do so.”
Bass also indicated that their decision is open-ended until a solution is found to the crisis. He said: “We hope it will not last long, but at this time we can’t predict how long it will take to resolve this matter. The duration will be a function of ongoing discussions between our two governments about the reasons for the detention of our local staff members and the Turkish government’s commitment to protecting our facilities and our personnel here in Turkey.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan commented on Monday on a visa crisis with the US that erupted following the arrest of a US Consulate General staff member on Oct. 4, saying the decision was “saddening.”
Metin Topuz, a member of the US Consulate General in İstanbul staff, had been arrested on Oct. 4 on espionage charges and alleged links to some leading members of the faith-based Gülen movement. Local media on Monday revealed that Turkish authorities issued a detention warrant for another US Consulate employee over alleged Gülen movement links on Sunday morning. Police were unable to detain him because he has remained in the consulate building.
Speaking to a group of journalists in İstanbul on Friday, John Bass, the departing US ambassador to Turkey, said some in the Turkish government are motivated by “vengeance rather than justice,” voicing concern at coverage in pro-government media outlets of the arrest of Topuz.
The US Embassy in Ankara on Sunday announced that it had suspended all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic missions in Turkey.
As part of an investigation into the so-called FETÖ organization (a derogatory term coined by the AKP government to refer to members of the Gülen movement), the İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office anti-terror and organized crime unit had filed a case against chiefs of police Yakup Saygılı, Nazmi Ardıç, Mahir Çakallı, and Mehmet Akif Üner and fugitive former judge Zekeriya Öz
The Gülen movement is a global civil society movement inspired by the views of US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and President Erdoğan accuse of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, despite Gülen’s repeated denials of any involvement.