John Bass, who served as the American ambassador to Turkey from 2014 to 2017 presided over some of the most turbulent times in US-Turkey relations. Here's a look at some of the major issues in the allies' relations during his tenure.

US Ambassador John Bass attends a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. Speaking during a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia on Tuesday, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Bass of wrecking ties between the NATO allies by suspending the issuing of visas to Turkish citizens at US diplomatic missions following the arrest of a Turkish employee at the consulate in Istanbul.
US Ambassador John Bass attends a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. Speaking during a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia on Tuesday, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Bass of wrecking ties between the NATO allies by suspending the issuing of visas to Turkish citizens at US diplomatic missions following the arrest of a Turkish employee at the consulate in Istanbul. (AP)

Former US Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, left for his new post to be the US ambassador to Afghanistan. His departure comes at possibly the most tense point in the history of Turkish-American relations.

The latest spat between the two nations came after a Turkish employee of the US consulate in Istanbul was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of links to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), which is responsible for the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. 

After the arrest, Washington stopped issuing non-immigrant visas from its missions in Turkey, prompting Turkish missions in the US to hit back with a tit-for-tat move.

Despite Turkey’s calls for normalised relations and warnings of sacrificing relations with Turkey, the US Ambassador to Turkey on Monday released a video response maintaining its position on the issue. In the video, he accused "Some Turkish officials on providing information about the allegations to certain news outlets" and also said the "The arrest had raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between the US and Turkey." 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday blamed Bass for the crisis in relations between the NATO allies.

"It is the ambassador here who caused this," Erdogan told a meeting in Ankara, referring to the outgoing US envoy in Turkey, John Bass.

"It is unacceptable for the United States to sacrifice its strategic partner like Turkey for a presumptuous ambassador," he said.

Although Turkish officials blamed the ambassador for the spat, the State Department said Bass had been operating with the full authority of the US government. 

In Serbia, at a joint press conference with the Serbian president, Erdogan said, “We do not see him as the representative of the United States in Turkey.”

Bass' valedictory visits were refused by Turkish officials, in an unprecedented action in the history of Turkey-US relations.
Bass' valedictory visits were refused by Turkish officials, in an unprecedented action in the history of Turkey-US relations. (AP)

It is traditional for outgoing envoys to make valedictory visits to top officials, though Bass’ visits were refused by some Turkish officials. It was unprecedented in the history of Turkish-US relations for Ankara to no longer recognise Washington's ambassador.

That was only the latest crisis after three years of tension between the two countries.

During the time John Bass was ambassador, the two NATO allies have gone through the most difficult period in their decades-long relationship. Here’s a look at the major issues in the Turkey-US relations during John Bass’ three-year tenure.  

Turkey, the US and Syria

John Bass started his term as US Ambassador to Turkey in October 2014, and he began his term during an ongoing crisis between Turkey and the US over comments from then-State Secretary John Kerry, implying that Turkey was purchasing oil from Daesh. 

Upon demands from Turkey for proof of such purchases, the US admitted that there was none, apologised and retracted their statements in 2016.

“I'd just say, look, we acknowledged that some of the initial assessments that we had were either corrected or were off-target a bit. We constantly do that. We admit when we make mistakes. We often wish that some other governments would do so as well,” John Bass said, after confirming that the CIA apologised for its claims. 

Since then, Turkey-US relations have continued on a rocky path over regional issues due to US cooperation with the YPG in Syria. 

The PKK, which is classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU, has been fighting the Turkish state for decades. 

US support for the YPG, which Turkey considers the Syrian branch of the PKK has strained relations between the NATO allies. The US has admitted that the PKK and YPG have links, but says the YPG is important in the fight against Daesh.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU which has been at war with the Turkish state since 1984.

In October 2014, Turkey denied the US permission to launch attacks against Daesh from its Incirlik Airbase due to concerns about US cooperation with the YPG. Months later in July, the two countries signed an agreement about the use of the airbase in the fight against the terrorist organisation. However, the agreement did not allow for US air support for the YPG in northern Syria. 

During this period, however, photographs of US soldiers with YPG militants emerged in the media. 

The US maintained that it was working with non-Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of which YPG forms the backbone, despite photographs depicting US soldiers standing with YPG militants. 

In 2016, John Bass also denied the US supports the YPG. When presented with photographs of US soldiers wearing YPG patches on their uniform, he said, “They don’t reflect a policy judgment by the United States with respect to the fight against Daesh.”

US soldiers in Syria pictured with YPG insignia on their uniforms.
US soldiers in Syria pictured with YPG insignia on their uniforms. (AFP)

 "Wearing the YPG patches was unauthorised, and it was inappropriate – and corrective action has been taken," US Colonel Steve Warren said in response to the photographs and the Turkish reaction. "And we have communicated as much to our military partners and our military allies in the region." 

Warren also explained that it was customary for US troops to wear the insignia of the groups with which they fight. 

Bass quoted Warren in explaining the photographs, said instead that they were “personal moves.”

"A Pentagon spokesperson said, these personal moves were made without permission and they were corrected," he said.

Although the US Defense Chief admitted that the YPG is linked to PKK, the US continued its arming of the YPG in northern Syria, in addition to providing logistical, strategic and bombardment support. 

The YPG is aiming to carve out an autonomous region in northern Syria, which Turkey views as a threat to its own territorial integrity. 

FETO and the July 15 coup attempt 

The most recent breaking point in Turkey-US relations has its roots in Turkey's claims of US support for the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation, or FETO, a clandestine organisation accused by Turkey of establishing a “parallel state,” headed by US-based congregation leader Fetullah Gulen. 

The organisation was officially designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey in May 2016, and is accused of orchestrating the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey last year. 

Although Gulen has been in self-imposed exile since the 1990s, the most recent crisis regarding the arrest of Metin Topuz dates back to 2013, when prosecutors launched a corruption investigation against senior government officials, including ministers and their families. 

Although the investigations, called the “17-25 December operations” against the officials were dropped, the government said that the probes were conducted by FETO-linked prosecutors and based on fabricated evidence aiming to topple then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the government. 

One person who had been investigated by Turkish FETO-linked prosecutors, Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, remains in custody in the US on charges of breaching sanctions on Iran.

Deputy General Manager of state-owned bank Halkbank, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was also arrested in the US in March 2017 on similar charges. 

"We believe and we see that this is a completely political process, including the arrest of Zarrab. Because former US attorney Preet Bharara has close relations with FETO," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during his meeting with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson after Atilla’s arrest.

Turkey has repeatedly called for the extradition of Gulen since the 17-25 December processes, and has intensified its requests following the July 15 coup attempt, presenting evidence about connections between FETO and the coup attempt and filing a formal extradition request.

The day of the formal extradition request, Bass said in an interview, "As a lawful permanent resident of the United States, Mr Gulen enjoys some legal protections and an opportunity to due process." 

He also said that the US would be looking for clear evidence of involvement in illegal activity that merits prosecution; and if there was, they would act accordingly.

More than a year after the coup attempt, Turkey continues to press for Gulen’s extradition. 

Although there is general consensus, from the ruling party, the opposition and Turkish society about FETO’s role in the coup, John Bass never named the organisation in his responses to the coup. 

“With respect to the ongoing efforts to bring those responsible for the coup attempt last year to justice – you know, as you heard me say, we strongly support the Turkish government’s efforts to do that, and its right to do that. And that is clearly a desire of everyone in this society to see those who committed these crimes to suffer the consequences and to face the appropriate penalties from the judiciary.”

Turkey also presented phone records showing that Adil Oksuz, who is thought to be one of the main perpetrators of the coup, received a phone call from the US Embassy after the events of July 15. Family members of FETO members have also called the embassy. The US embassy released a statement saying, "The Turkish National Police called the US Mission Turkey to request our assistance in preventing Adil Oksuz from fleeing Turkey. We then revoked his US visa and, as required by US law, tried to call him to inform him of the cancellation."

Bass did not directly address the matter even when asked to comment on the issue: 

“Our statement I think is very clear in terms of establishing the facts of the matter at that point in time,” he said. 

“We continue to work very closely with the Justice Ministry, with other parts of the Turkish government, on the government’s efforts to bring those responsible to justice.”

In September, Erdogan said that a US pastor who is currently detained in Turkey for being a member in FETO could be swapped for Gulen

" 'Give us the pastor back', they say. You have one pastor [Gulen] as well. Give him to us," Erdogan said. "Then we will try him and give him to you."

In the most recent issue regarding the arrest of the Turkish employee at the US consulate, Metin Topuz – for his alleged ties to FETO – John Bass said,  "I am deeply disturbed that some people in the Turkish government prefer to try this case through media outlets rather than properly pursuing the case in a court of law before a judge.”

“That does not strike me as pursuing justice; it seems to me more a pursuit of vengeance."

With these reactions from Bass, Erdogan said he wouldn’t accept Bass as the representative of his country.

And four days before he left Turkey, in a press conference in Ankara, his remarks on Daesh created a new tension.

"Fortunately, this country has not experienced any significant attacks by Daesh in nine-and-a-half months," Bass said on Wednesday of the success of US-Turkey security cooperation with Daesh. "The absence of attacks is not a result of Daesh deciding it no longer wanted to try to conduct attacks in Turkey. It’s a result of Daesh no longer being able to conduct these kinds of attacks."

In Turkey, some officials in Ankara saw his remarks as a veiled threat. Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said that the outgoing ambassador must explain what he meant by those words.

They said the ambassador’s comments suggest Turkey would face terrorist attacks from Daesh if the US was to end its campaign against the terror group.

Bass has departed Turkey, leaving behind the biggest political crisis between the two countries to date.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies