The United States says it is “very disappointed” by the Turkish government‘s arrest of two local staffers of the American Consulate, as diplomatic tensions between the two countries ramp up following the bilateral suspension of all nonimmigrant visa services.
Last week; for the second time this year, Turkish authorities arrested a local staff member of the U.S. diplomatic mission. U.S. Ambassador John Bass later announced a temporary halt to all non immigrant visa applications. Turkey retaliated by announcing its own suspension of visa services to the United States.
On Tuesday, the State Department confirmed that Turkish authorities had summoned a third U.S. Embassy staff member over the weekend. That staff member has not been formally arrested.
“These actions are deeply disturbing to us,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said during Tuesday’s briefing.
Nauert also rejected suggestions that Bass had acted unilaterally in suspending visa services in the U.S. Embassy and consulates throughout Turkey.
“Our ambassadors tend to not do things unilaterally,” said Nauert. “This was coordinated with the State Department. It was coordinated with the White House and coordinated with the embassy.”
Officials say U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Saturday. Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon also spoke to his Turkish counterpart prior to the announcement that the U.S. government would suspend non immigrant visa services at the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Turkey.
Bass said the suspension of non immigration visa service would minimize the number of visitors to U.S. Embassy and consulates in Turkey, while Washington assesses Ankara’s commitment to the security of American diplomatic facilities and personnel.
Erdogan blames U.S. envoy
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Tuesday, blamed Bass for the diplomatic crisis, saying Turkish officials would boycott farewell meetings with Bass, who is due to leave Ankara soon to take up a position in Kabul as U.S. envoy to Afghanistan.
“An ambassador in Ankara taking decisions and saying he is doing so in the name of his government is strange,” said Erdogan.
Erdogan also accused “agents” of infiltrating U.S. missions.
“No state would allow such spies that pose an internal threat,” Erdogan said Tuesday alongside Serbia’s president in Belgrade.
The dispute has plunged already fragile relations between the two NATO allies to a new low after months of tension linked to the conflict in Syria, last year’s failed military coup in Turkey, and U.S. court cases against Turkish officials.