The United States should dismiss its ambassador to Ankara if he took the decision to suspend visa services in Turkey, says Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic (not in the picture) after their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, October 10, 2017. (Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic (not in the picture) after their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, October 10, 2017. (Reuters) (Reuters)

The United States should dismiss its ambassador to Ankara if he took the decision to suspend visa services in Turkey, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, adding he no longer regards Washington's envoy as a representative of the US government.

The US mission in Turkey and subsequently the Turkish mission in Washington mutually reduced visa services after a locally-hired US mission employee was detained in Turkey last week.

The two sides said they needed to reassess each other's commitment to the security of their personnel.

Speaking at a news conference in Belgrade, Erdogan blamed the United States for causing the dispute between the two countries.

He asked how "agents" had infiltrated the US consulate, referring to a consulate worker who was arrested last week and the involvement of a second individual at the mission.

The United States has punished Turkish and US citizens alike by suspending visa services, Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday, accusing Washington of taking an emotional and inappropriate decision against an ally.

Yildirim said the dispute should be resolved as soon as possible, but defended Turkey's arrest of a US consulate employee.

'Upsetting decision'

Erdogan said on Monday a US decision to suspend visa services in Turkey was upsetting, adding that Turkish foreign ministry officials had contacted their US counterparts over the issue.

"Above all, the decision is very upsetting. It is very upsetting for us that the embassy in Ankara took such a decision and implemented it," Erdogan told a news conference during a visit to Ukraine on Monday.

Turkey urged the US, earlier on Monday, to review its suspension of visa services after the arrest of the US consulate employee.

But experts argue that the reason behind the US move is more than just embassy employees.

"I'm equally concerned, in terms of individuals being held, by the American citizens of Turkish decent who have not been allowed out of jail or to come home since the coup attempt," Michael O'Hanlon from Brookings Institution said.

Among them is Andrew Craig Brunson, a pastor, who was arrested on December 2016, for allegedly being a member of FETO - a group the Turkish government blames for orchestrating a coup attempt last year.

The group is led by US-based congregation leader Fetullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. 

President Erdogan, however, has blasted such criticism. "We've given them any document and information they requested. Now, they're asking for a pastor. In that case, you can hand over the pastor we've been requesting, and we'll give you yours. But they reject. As if only they have judicial process in place. In fact, we are the only one prosecuting, while Gulen remains free over there," said Erdogan.

TRT World's Ediz Tiyansan reports the latest.

Turkey's Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul on Monday said he hoped the US would review its decision to suspend most visa services for Turkish citizens.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities announced that a second employee of the US 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 spat hit Turkey's currency on Monday as the lira fell four percent in early trading, pushing the dollar to a seven-month high at one point.

Relations between Ankara and Washington have been plagued by disputes over US support for YPG in Syria, Turkey's calls for the extradition of a US-based cleric and the indictment of a Turkish former minister in a US court.

But last week's arrest of a Turkish employee of the US consulate in Istanbul marked a fresh low.

TRT World's Andrew Hopkins reports.

Duration of visa services suspension 

The US ambassador to Turkey said on Monday the duration of a suspension in visa services in Turkey would depend on talks between the two governments regarding the detention of Turkish staff at the US embassy.

In a written statement, Ambassador John Bass said the length of the suspension would also depend on "the Turkish government's commitment to protecting our facilities and personnel here inTurkey", noting it was not a visa ban on Turkish citizens.

He said the embassy had been unable to learn the reasons for the arrest of a Turkish staff member last week and or what evidence exists against the employee.

The US on Monday clarified its decision to suspend non-immigrant visa operations at its diplomatic facilities in Turkey, emphasising that it only applies to the consideration of new visa applications.

“If you have a valid visa, you can still travel to the United States. If you want to apply for a visa at another US embassy or consulate outside of Turkey, you are free to do so,” Bass said in a statement. 

Alleged Gulen links

The US consulate employee in Istanbul was arrested on charges of alleged links to Fetullah Gulen.

Anadolu news agency identified the consulate employee as Turkish citizen Metin Topuz. 

He was arrested late on Wednesday on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and Turkey’s government,” and “spying,” a judicial source said.

His alleged links included police commissioners and fugitive former public prosecutor Zekeriya Oz, who had been accused of "forming an organisation to commit crime" and "attempting to overthrow the government by use of force."

Turkey is pressing for the extradition of the alleged leader of the July 2016 coup, in which more than 240 people were killed and another 2,000 wounded.

Ankara responds

The US embassy in Ankara condemned those charges as baseless and announced on Sunday night it was halting all non-immigrant visa services in Turkey while it reassessed Turkey's commitment to the security of its missions and staff.

Within hours, Ankara announced it was taking the same measures against US citizens seeking visas for Turkey.

The Turkish foreign ministry last week said the US has no grounds to protest the arrest.

“He [Topuz] is neither a staff of the US Consulate nor does he have any diplomatic or consular immunity,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies