The U.S. And Turkey Are Locked In A Visa Standoff
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The United States and Turkey are in this visa standoff. Embassies in both countries have suspended issuing new visas after an employee at the American consulate in Istanbul was arrested. Now diplomats for both NATO allies are hoping the situation doesn't escalate and jeopardize already strained ties between the two nations. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul following this. Hi, Peter.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hey, David. How are you?
GREENE: I'm good. How are you doing?
KENYON: All right. It's a little crazy, though.
GREENE: It is a little crazy. I mean, so this all began with an arrest? Who exactly was arrested, and why did this become a thing here?
KENYON: Right. Well, the man has been identified as Metin Topuz. He works at the consulate in kind of a security capacity. We'll hear more about that in a minute. But anyway, right after he was arrested, pro-government media here in Turkey were reporting that he was suspected of having ties to a U.S.-based cleric, a man named Fethulla Gulen, who's been accused in a failed coup attempt from last summer here. The American embassy in Ankara responded to the arrest by just stopping new visa processing at its consulate embassy, all its facilities in Turkey. And then right after that, the Turkish embassy basically did the same thing. No more new visas at its facilities and missions in the U.S. And that, by the way, applies to the E-visas, the ones you could get online. So that's where it stands right now.
GREENE: The E-visas, these are ones that American tourists would get to go on vacation in Istanbul or...
KENYON: Yes. Many people I've met who've come here did it that way, but it's not just the embassies that aren't processing. It's the whole - the whole deal.
GREENE: So what - what has the response from officials been? I mean, are they suggesting this tit for tat is just going to get worse? Do they see an end?
KENYON: The immediate calls have been for a very quick resolution. The Turkish prime minister said that just today. The justice minister said that. The U.S. Ambassador John Bass has said he hopes this can be resolved quickly. But there are also a lot of grievances being aired at the same time. Ambassador Bass issued a statement that said while we didn't take this decision lightly and it saddens us - but he also said there were real problems with these leaks to the Turkish media. Some of them claimed that this employee, Metin Topuz, had spoken with police, which, Bass said in the statement, is actually his job at the consulate. Here's a little bit of his statement.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN BASS: Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was part of his regular duties. This arrest has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the longstanding cooperation between Turkey and the United States.
KENYON: Now, in diplomatic speak, that's fairly strong language. So we're seeing this mix of airing grievances and trying to get things resolved. Bass says there's conversations going on that will be crucial, but he's not willing to predict how long it might last.
GREENE: And I guess it's important to remember here, this - the whole backdrop is these tensions that have been there. This - this arrest, I mean, and the suspicions from Turkish officials, all of this speaks to the tensions between these two countries. So where does this go from here?
KENYON: Well, that's exactly right. And this is why diplomats are hoping to avoid further escalation. There's a lot at stake here. The two countries are involved in this fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. There's U.S. jets launching from a Turkish air base here to carry out those attacks. There's been tensions over the American support for fighters on the other side who are Kurdish, people that the Turks feel are terrorists. So there's been a lot of anger. There's been a lot of anti-American sentiment. And, honestly, it doesn't look like things are going to get better immediately. There are now reports that another Turkish employee at the consulate is wanted for questioning. His wife and son have already been interrogated, we're reading, and a pro-government paper reports the first employee from last week has now, quote, "confessed." So we're just going to have to see where it goes from here. It's not clear at all that's going to end very soon.
GREENE: OK. Hearing about a diplomatic tit for tat between the United States and Turkey. NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.
KENYON: Thanks, David.
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