US embassy in Turkey announces end of visa restrictions for Turkish citizens

The US embassy in Ankara announced on Thursday that the Department of State has allowed full resumption of visa services in Turkey, nearly three months after Washington halted services, which prompted a diplomatic row between the two NATO allies.

“Since October, the Government of Turkey has adhered to the high-level assurances it provided to the United States that there are no additional local employees of our Mission in Turkey under investigation, that local staff of our Embassy and consulates will not be detained or arrested for performing their officials duties – including communicating with Turkish officials also working in an official capacity – and that Turkish authorities will inform the US government in advance if the Government of Turkey intends to detain or arrest any member of our local staff in the future,” the embassy tweeted.

“Based on adherence to these assurances, the Department of State is confident that the security posture has improved sufficiently to allow for the full resumption of visa services in Turkey. We continue to have serious concerns about the existing allegations against arrested local employees of our Mission in Turkey. We are also concerned about cases against US citizens who have been arrested under the state of emergency. US officials will continue to engage with their Turkish counterparts to seek a satisfactory resolution of these cases,” it added.

The embassy had announced that the earliest date for visa appointments regarding non-immigrant applicants in its diplomatic missions in the country is January 2019, following a diplomatic spat that prompted the two NATO allies to mutually suspend granting visas.

Shortly after the US Embassy in Turkey announced a resumption of full visa services in the country based on assurances provided by the Turkish government, the Turkish Embassy in Washington said on its website that the United States is misinforming the US and Turkish public by saying they have received such assurances from Ankara, CNN Türk reported in breaking news.

The embassy in Washington clamed that no assurances were given for cases that are in the midst of legal proceedings in Turkey and that it had lifted limitations on the issuance of visas for US citizens based on the rule of reciprocity.

In October, Washington halted issuing visas at its missions in the country, citing the detention of two of its local employees, which drew an immediate retaliation from Ankara.

After Washington’s decision to process granting visas on a limited basis, Ankara also relaxed a visa ban of its own. However, Turkey said it had not offered assurances.

Metin Topuz, an employee of the US Consulate in İstanbul, was detained on Sept. 25, 2017 and arrested on Oct. 4 on espionage charges, prompting a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Ankara. Topuz’s arrest led Washington to suspend all non-immigrant visa services at diplomatic missions in Turkey, which was immediately followed by a reciprocal move by the Turkish Embassy in Washington to suspend visa applications from the US on Oct. 8.

Turkey accuses Topuz of links to police officers who are sympathizers of the Gülen movement, which is blamed by Turkish authorities for a failed coup last year.

Speaking to a group of journalists in İstanbul on Oct. 6, outgoing US Ambassador in 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.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had waited for three days before calling his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, in response to a message sent by Çavuşoğlu regarding the visa crisis.

US Ambassador 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.”

In March 2017 Hamza Uluçay, a translator at the US Consulate in the southern province of Adana, was arrested on charges of membership in a “terrorist” organization, and a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) worker was recently detained in Istanbul. Both are accused of links to last year’s coup attempt. The US Embassy has called the accusations baseless.

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 Turkish autocratic 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.

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