[UPDATE] US Embassy resumes processing limited visas after high-level assurances from Turkey

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The US Embassy in Ankara. AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

The United States has resumed processing visas at its missions in Turkey on a “limited” basis, the embassy announced on Monday, in what could signal a tentative improvement in the ongoing diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

“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. 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 and that Turkish authorities will inform the U.S. government in advance if the Government of Turkey intends to detain or arrest a member of our local staff in the future.

“Based on these preliminary assurances, we believe the security posture has improved sufficiently to allow for the resumption of limited visa services in Turkey. We continue to have serious concerns about the existing cases against arrested local employees of our Mission in Turkey. We are also concerned about the cases against U.S. citizens who have been arrested under the state of emergency. U.S. officials will continue to engage with their Turkish counterparts to seek a satisfactory resolution of these cases,” the embassy announced on its website.

The embassy’s statement was repeated in an announcement released on Monday by US Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert.

The step came a day before Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s visit to the US where he will meet with US Vice President Mike Pence on Nov. 8.

On Oct. 8, the US and Turkey halted non-immigrant visa services in their respective missions after Metin Topuz, a staff member at the US Consulate General in İstanbul, was arrested on Oct. 4 on espionage charges and alleged links to some leading members of the faith-based Gülen movement.

Speaking to a group of journalists in İstanbul on Oct. 6, outgoing US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass said some in the Turkish government were motivated by “vengeance rather than justice,” voicing concern at coverage in pro-government media outlets of the arrest of Topuz.

Bass said in a video message released late on Oct. 9 that Turkish authorities had failed to show 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.”

Ties between the two NATO allies were already strained over Pennsylvania-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen’s presence in the US and Washington’s support for a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey considers to be terrorist because of its links to outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants fighting Turkey.

Also, indictments in the US naming bodyguards of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who were engaged in violence in Washington and for the manager of the state-run Halkbank and a former Turkish economy minister accused of conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran had deepened the rift.

Prime Minister Yıldırım’s visit will take place amid claims that Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who has been charged in Manhattan with conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran, may be prepared to plead guilty.

Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül in October said all the documents for the extradition of Gülen, who the government accuses of masterminding a failed coup on July 15, 2016, were completed, and Prime Minister Yıldırım will speak with the US administration on this issue as well as others during his visit to Washington.

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