ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s justice minister on Monday said he hoped the United States would review its decision to suspend most visa services for Turkish citizens following the arrest of a U.S. consulate employee in Istanbul that has deepened tensions between the two NATO allies.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities announced that a second employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul had been “invited” to the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office to testify. Authorities did not explain why. Reports say the employee is a Turkish citizen, and the prosecutor’s office said his wife and child had also been detained for questioning.
The U.S. on Sunday suspended the issuing of visas for Turkish citizens hoping to visit or study in the United States after Turkey arrested U.S. consulate employee Metin Topuz last week on allegations of espionage.
Turkey immediately halted visa services in the U.S. in a tit-for-tat response.
John Bass, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, said in a video message Monday that Topuz was the second Turkish staff member to be arrested this year, adding that U.S. officials were “unable to determine why it occurred, or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee.” He said Topuz had not been allowed “sufficient” access to his attorney.
Bass added that the arrest has “raised questions whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the U.S.”
Speaking during a visit to Ukraine, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the U.S. decision a “saddening” development. He said that he had immediately ordered a retaliatory measure that resulted in the Turkish Embassy in Washington issuing an almost identical text to the U.S. announcement.
“Turkey is governed by the rule of law. Above all, we are not a tribe, we are not a tribal state,” Erdogan said.
Earlier, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the embassy’s second-in-charge, asking that Washington review the decision that caused “unnecessary escalation” and “victimized” both Turkish and U.S. citizens, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said.
“It is Turkey’s right to try a Turkish citizen for acts carried out in Turkey,” said Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. “Everyone should follow (legal procedures) with respect.”
Despite the seemingly friendly relations between U.S. President Donald Trump and Erdogan, ties between the two countries are tense over the arrest of Topuz, a Turkish citizen, and several Americans over alleged ties to a movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for last summer’s coup attempt. Gulen denies involvement.
Topuz is accused of espionage and “attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and constitution.” Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported that he allegedly communicated with former police chiefs in a 2013 corruption probe and others involved in the attempted coup using an encrypted mobile messaging application.
Bass said Topuz worked in an office “devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation” between Turkey and the U.S.
“Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was part of his regular duties,” the ambassador said. “The Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.
Other Americans held in Turkey include Pastor Andrew Brunson who was detained last year and is accused of terror-related charges for alleged ties to Gulen’s movement. Erdogan has linked the pastor’s possible release or deportation to Washington agreeing to extradite Gulen to Turkey.
The Turkish lira recorded a sharp drop against the dollar on Monday, following the mutual suspension of visa services.