Turkish prosecutors said on Monday that they had summoned an employee of the United States consulate in Istanbul to testify in a criminal matter, only days after the government’s arrest of another U.S. consulate employee set off a bitter and unusually public feud between the Trump administration and the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish authorities provided few details about the latest warrant, and a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Ankara declined to comment on the case. But with its timing, the summons amounted to another provocation in an accelerating crisis between Turkey and the United States that has raised concerns about the future of their alliance and stunned officials and observers in both countries.
The latest episode started on Sunday, when the U.S. Embassy announced that it was immediately suspending the issuing of nonimmigrant visas at its missions in Turkey. The embassy statement cited security concerns, but the surprise move was widely seen as a response to Turkey’s arrest last week of Metin Topuz, a Turkish employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, on espionage charges.
Turkey’s embassy in Washington responded hours later with identical restrictions – suddenly upending the plans of countless Turkish and American tourists, students, businesspeople and others who did not already possess the necessary visas for travel.
The spiraling argument has exposed deep divides between Erdogan’s government and the Trump administration and undermined months of effort by both sides to paper over their differences with public expressions of solidarity. The arguments – about the war in Syria and more recently over the detention of Turkish and American citizens – have burst into public view with a litany of official recriminations and increasingly provocative actions.
The U.S.-imposed travel restrictions only affected new visas issued in Turkey, and did not prevent Turkish citizens for applying for visas at U.S. missions in other countries, or restrict travel to the United States by Turks already holding visas, officials said.
Even so, the news sent the Turkish currency tumbling and prompted Turkish officials and a leading business association on Monday to urge that the restrictions be lifted. “The economic, social, cultural, and academic relations, as well as citizens of the two countries that are in conflict – who are not the ones responsible – will suffer,” the business association, TUSAID, said in a statement.
An official at Turkey’s foreign ministry said that beginning Monday evening, American citizens would be prevented from obtaining visas on arrival at Turkey’s airports. An online system for obtaining visas was shut down Sunday night. The restrictions would also prevent the issuance of new visas for longer term stays typically sought by academics, journalists and scientists, the official said.
Turkish officials have linked their pursuit of the U.S. consulate employees to their ongoing investigation into Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania. Turkey has accused Gulen of masterminding an attempted coup against the government in July 2016 and demanded his extradition from the United States. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested by the Turkish authorities in a post-coup crackdown, including Gulen’s followers as well as ordinary critics of the government.
A prosecutor’s statement carried by local news outlets on Monday said the authorities had arrested the wife and child of the U.S. consulate employee who had received the summons, on charges of belonging to Gulen’s movement. It did not say whether the employee, who was referred to by the initials N.M.C., was facing arrest but added that he did not enjoy diplomatic immunity.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Kareem Fahim