US says White House, State Department support ambassador in Turkey

US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert

The US Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, has the support of the White House and US State Department in his decision to suspend visa services over the arrest of a local Turkish employee last week, a move that quickly escalated into a crisis between the two countries.

The US is “very concerned” about the situation in Turkey, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday. She said the US has seen no evidence that the detained employee, or another who was arrested previously, were supporters of the Gülen movement.

Earlier, Erdoğan seemed to put the blame for the visa suspension controversy solely on Bass, a career diplomat scheduled to leave the country soon after being tapped by US President Donald Trump to serve as ambassador to Afghanistan. Nauert also disclosed Tuesday that a third US employee in Turkey was taken in for questioning but wasn’t arrested.

Erdoğan has claimed on Tuesday that Turkey did not start the visa crisis and that the US was the instigator, adding that Ankara does not see US Ambassador John Bass as a representative of Washington. “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,” Erdoğan said during a joint press conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade.

Calling on the US to recall Ambassador Bass from Ankara, Erdoğan said: “How did those agents [two Turkish employees at the US consulate, one under arrest and the other sought by police over alleged ties to the Gülen movement] infiltrate the US Consulate? Who employed them if they did not infiltrate it? We have to focus on this. No state can allow these kinds of agents. Turkey is not a tribal state.”

Erdoğan said he would not agree to a request for a meeting with departing US Ambassador Bass: “We do not see him as a representative of the US.”

“Above all, this decision is saddening. The fact that the ambassador in Ankara took such a decision and implemented it is saddening,” commented Erdoğan on Monday on the visa crisis with the US.

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning said on Tuesday that a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the US has not affected military operations or personnel in Turkey. According to a Reuters story, Manning said: “I can confirm that these developments have not impacted our operations or personnel. The Turkish air force base in Incirlik continues to fulfill an important role supporting NATO and coalition efforts.”

He said Turkey was a close NATO ally and that the US would continue to coordinate joint and separate military activities with Ankara.

Ankara’s relations with Washington were strained after İstanbul Consulate General staff member Metin Topuz was arrested late on Oct. 4 on espionage charges and alleged links to some leading members of the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of being behind a failed coup last year.

The US Embassy in Ankara on Sunday announced that it had suspended all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic missions in Turkey.

Hours after the release of the statement, the Turkish Embassy in Washington announced that it had suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all Turkish diplomatic missions in the US.

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