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US backs Ankara ambassador in visa row, says ‘disappointed’ with Turkish gov’t

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The US State Department on Tuesday backed its ambassador in Ankara, John Bass, for halting non-immigrant visa services in Turkey, noting that it was a decision coordinated by the State Department, White House and National Security Council and added that the US was disappointed with the Turkish government over the arrest of a US consulate staff member.

During a press briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Bass is one of the best ambassadors the US has and that they are proud to have him serving in Turkey.

Underlining that Turkey is an important NATO partner of the US with close security cooperation, Nauert said it was a concern for the US when the Turkish government started detaining and arresting US Consulate staff members who are responsible for coordination with Turkish law enforcement.

I’m not sure exactly what the Turkish government’s motives were. Let me just be clear we were disappointed in their actions. Being able to have close security cooperation, especially with a NATO partner, is incredibly important. And when they start arresting, detaining our people, our people who are responsible for law enforcement coordination, that is a huge – that is a major concern of ours, and so that is why we took these steps,” she said.

After Turkish authorities arrested consulate employee Metin Topuz on Oct. 4, the US Embassy in Ankara announced on Sunday that it had suspended all non-immigrant visa services at US missions in Turkey.

Nauert also said there is no evidence that backs up what the Turkish government accuses US Consulate staff members of and they have not had access to legal counsel.

When asked whether the US expects Turkey to release the two staff members in order to resume visa services, Nauert said, “I think a good start would be to allow them access to their attorneys.”

US. Ambassador Bass said in a video message released late Monday that Turkish authorities have failed to present any evidence against Topuz and that he had insufficient access to a lawyer. He also said the arrest “raised questions whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the US.”

Speaking during a press conference with his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, in Belgrade on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Bass of wrecking ties between two NATO allies by unilaterally taking the decision to halt visa services.

It is thought-provoking that an ambassador [John Bass] in Ankara took a decision [suspending visa services in Turkey] and says ‘I took it in the name of my state.’ If this is the case, there is nothing for us to talk about with the US administration. If it is not like that and this ambassador has taken the decision himself, then the US administration should not keep him there [in Ankara] for a minute longer,” he said.

Underling that the recent detention and warrants for staff members of the US Consulate General in İstanbul show that some spying was going on, Erdoğan asked: “How did these spies infiltrate the American consulate? If they didn’t infiltrate it, who put them there?”

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters during a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday, Bass said that there is “no one hiding” at any US diplomatic facilities in Turkey.

On Sunday, Turkish authorities issued a detention warrant for another US Consulate staff member who is reportedly sheltering in the Consulate General building in İstanbul.

According to a Hürriyet daily story on Monday, US Consulate employee N.M.C.’s wife S.C. and his adult child K.İ.C. were detained in the Merzifon district of Amasya province as part of an investigation into Gülen movement members while N.M.C. has remained in the consulate building in İstanbul.

Erdoğan said US Consulate staff members for whom detention warrants have been issued are spies and added that they were also accused of ties to the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government claims was behind a failed coup last year.

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