ANKARA – Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim appealed on Tuesday for the United States to backtrack its decision to suspend all non-immigrant visa services in Turkey, a move taken after two Turkish workers at the US consulate were arrested.
Yildirim was speaking to Turkish lawmakers amid worsening tensions between the two NATO allies who, earlier in the week, implemented mutual visa restrictions on each other in a tit-for-tat row sparked when Turkish police arrest the two staff members at the US consulate in Istanbul for alleged links to a failed coup d’état in 2016.
“Punishing citizens is a somewhat inappropriate reaction for allied countries. It is a completely inappropriate reaction from a great country like the United States,” said Yildirim, a member of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
“It does not at all help to solve the problems we have between our countries. For this reason, we urge the United States to act with more common sense,” he added.
In a statement released late Monday, the US ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, detailed the reasons behind Washington’s decision to reel back its visa issuance program in Turkey.
“Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities. Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee,” Bass said.
Bass lamented that the detained employee had not been afforded sufficient access to his lawyers and that Turkish officials appeared to have provided information on the allegations against the consulate worker to local press without first informing their suspect.
“This arrest has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the United States,” he continued, adding that Washington’s diplomatic mission was devoted to upholding Turkish law.
Yildirim dismissed this reasoning, telling lawmakers that, within the rule of law, Turkey did not need US permission to prosecute its citizens.
The PM confirmed that prosecutors were investigating several Turkish workers at the consulate for alleged links to the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is accused by Ankara of masterminding the coup attempt in July 2016 from his home in the US state of Pennsylvania, where he lives in exile.
Since the failed putsch, Erdogan has launched a campaign of mass arrests and has dismissed thousands of public workers from their posts.