US diplomatic missions in Turkey have halted all non-immigrant visa services after the arrest of a local staff member at its Istanbul consulate. Turkey retaliated by saying it would suspend visa services for Americans.
The US mission to Turkey said in a statement Sunday that it had drastically cut visa services while it reassessed Ankara's commitment to the security of its staff, prompting Turkey to retaliate with a similar measure.
"Recent events have forced the United States government to reassess the commitment of [the] government of Turkey to the security of [the] US mission and personnel," the US Embassy said.
"In order to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey," the US statement continued.
The Turkish Embassy in Washington responded hours later, saying it would suspend all visas in passports, e-visas and visas at the border for American citizens.
"Recent events have forced [the] Turkish Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of the United States to the security of Turkish Mission facilities and personnel," the Turkish Embassy said.
US applicants on Turkey's electronic visa system are now greeted with the message: "Sorry. Unfortunately, nationals of the country that you selected are not eligible for e-Visa," advising US citizens to contact a Turkish diplomatic mission. Images of this were shared on social media.
Arrest of Turkish national at US consulate
The US decision comes after the arrest last week of a Turkish national who worked at the US consulate in Istanbul. According to Turkish media, the man, Metin Topuz, has been accused of espionage and "attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and constitution."
He is also alleged to have links to the movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the man Turkey's government believes was behind a failed coup on July 15, 2016. In recent months, Turkish authorities have rounded up tens of thousands of people and purged the public sector of individuals it claims are Gulen allies.
The US Embassy in Ankara said in a statement last week it was "deeply disturbed" by the arrest, adding that it believed the allegations against the consulate employee were "without merit."
The arrest, the second of a Turkish national at a US consulate this year, adds to already simmering tensions between the two allies over US support for a Kurdish militia in Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said on Monday he hoped the US would review its decision halt visa services, but that it could not interfere with its justice system.
"Trying a Turkish citizen for a crime committed in Turkey is our right. I hope the US will revise its decision in this light," he told A Haber television.
A number of US citizens are behind bars in Turkey, including Christian pastor Andrew Brunson, who was arrested last year for alleged links to Gulen.
Turkey has appealed, so far in vain, for the US to extradite Gulen, who is a legal resident in the state of Pennsylvania. The cleric denies any involvement in the coup.
Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested Gulen could be swapped for Brunson. Erdogan's critics accused the president of trying to blackmail Washington.
The decision to reduce consulate services, which is expected to worsen already tense relations between the NATO allies, will affect business, tourism, medical treatment, student exchange, visitor, crew member, media and journalists, treaty trader, diplomatic and official visas.
The latest spat between the US and Turkey sent the already weak Turkish lira tumbling more than four percent against the dollar, its biggest drop since the failed coup attempt.
Bad for business
The Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD), a leading Turkish business association, said the spat would harm economic, social, cultural and academic relations between the two countries.
TUSIAD said in a statement that diplomatic processes to solve the "visa crisis" should begin immediately and that disagreements and differences should be settled with calm diplomacy.
aw, cw/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa)