Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara does not recognize outgoing John Bass as the US ambassador in the Anatolian country and boycotts all official meetings with him, as a newly erupted visa crisis between the two countries further unfolds.
“The ambassador is currently paying farewell visits but neither our ministers, nor the parliament speaker, nor myself have accepted these farewell visits because we do not see him as the representative of the US in Turkey,” said the Turkish president in a joint press conference with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, on Tuesday.
John Bass, 53, has been Washington’s envoy to Turkey since October 2014 and is set to leave Turkey shortly, after his nomination for the US envoy to Afghanistan was confirmed by the Senate late last month. It is unprecedented in the history of Ankara-Washington relations for Turkey to say it no longer recognizes Washington's ambassador.
His departure from Turkey comes amid a deepening visa crisis between Ankara and Washington, triggered on October 5, when Turkish authorities ordered the arrest of Metin Topuz, a Turkish staff member at the US Consulate in Istanbul, accusing him of espionage and having links with the followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a coup attempt last year.
In response, the US Embassy in Ankara announced on Sunday that it was immediately suspending all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic missions in Turkey, citing security concerns. Washington’s decision was not left unanswered. It prompted Ankara to freeze “all visa services” for Americans in the US in a tit-for-tat move.
“How did those spies infiltrate into the US Consulate? If they did not infiltrate, who put them there? No state would allow such spies that could threaten it from the inside,” Erdogan said at the presser, adding that Washington should dismiss Bass if he made the decision to suspend visa services in Turkey.
Earlier in the day, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also rejected Washington’s criticisms of Ankara over the arrest of a US consulate staffer.
“Turkey is a state of law. Does the fact that he who committed a crime or is accused of a crime is (a member) of an American mission give him any privileges? Does that mean we have to seek the permission of the (US) gentlemen? Do we need their consent?” he said.
The Turkish premier also lambasted the US move in suspending the non-immigrant visa services for Turkish nationals at US diplomatic facilities in Turkey, arguing that the move was in fact a punitive measure against Turks.
“It is very inappropriate behavior to punish the citizens. It’s behavior that doesn’t befit … the US. We invite the US to act with more common sense,” Yildirim said.
The diplomatic spat is the worst deterioration in relations between the two NATO allies in recent years, coming at a time of Turkish grievances over US support for Kurdish militants in Syria, which Ankara views as terrorists.
Erdogan has also slammed American officials for rejecting his requests to hand over Gulen, accused of being the mastermind of the mid-July 2016 botched putsch, during which almost 250 people were killed and nearly 2,200 others wounded. Gulen has already denied the charges.
In a post-coup crackdown, Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, policemen, teachers, and civil servants and has arrested nearly 50,000 others, a move that drew Washington’s criticisms.