US suspends all non-immigrant visa services in Turkey

US Embassy says recent events forced it to reassess Ankara’s commitment to the security of US facilities and staff.

General view of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara
A general view of the US Embassy in Turkey's capital, Ankara [File: Umit Bektas/Reuters]

The United States embassy in Ankara says it is suspending, with immediate effect, all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in Turkey.

The move on Sunday means that Turks will not be given visas to visit the US unless they are planning to move there.

A statement issued by the US mission in the Turkish capital said recent events had forced the US government to reassess Ankara’s commitment to the security of US facilities and staff.

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“In order to minimise 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,” read the statement.  

Ankara retaliated later on Sunday, saying it will cease issuing non-immigrant visas to US citizens.

Arrest of US consulate’s employee

The move comes a few days after the arrest of a US consulate employee in Istanbul for alleged links to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim leader blamed by Ankara for a failed coup attempt last year. Gulen denies involvement.

Washington said it was “deeply disturbed” by the employee’s arrest.

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Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency identified the consulate employee as a male Turkish citizen.

It said he was arrested late on Wednesday on charges of espionage and attempts to damage the constitutional order and Turkey’s government.

‘Ratcheting up’

US-Turkish tensions have risen over Washington’s military support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria, considered by Ankara to be an extension of the banned PKK, which has waged an armed campaign for three decades in southeast Turkey.

Turkey has also pressed, so far in vain, for the US to extradite Gulen.

“It’s clear that this [suspension of visa services] is just one more ratcheting up of the war of words between the US and Turkey,” Al Jazeera’s Tom Ackerman, reporting from Washington, DC, said.

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Ackerman said that Turkish authorities “had imprisoned more than a dozen American-Turkish citizens” living in Turkey over the past year or so, including an Izmir-based Christian pastor.

Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, has been held by Turkish authorities since October 2016 on charges of being a member of Gulen’s group.

“You can see that this more than just the accusations about one man in the Istanbul consulate,” Ackerman said.

Al Jazeera’s Koseoglu concurred, saying that the US ambassador in Ankara, in a recent meeting with Turkish journalists, had alleged that “Turkey was using those people who have been arrested as hostages to gain leverage in diplomatic negotiations with the US”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies