Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim's first visit to Washington hopes to heal strained relations that peaked after both countries suspended bilateral visa services.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim pose for a picture before their meeting at the 53rd Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 18, 2017.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim pose for a picture before their meeting at the 53rd Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 18, 2017. (Reuters)

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim will travel to the United States for a four-day visit starting on Wednesday in a bid to normalise strained relations between the two allies.

Yildirim will mark the first high-level visit by a Turkish official to the US after the visa crisis began. It was sparked by Turkey's detention of a Turkish citizen working for the US diplomatic mission in Istanbul, over allegations of helping the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO).

Turkish prosecutors accused the embassy staff member, identified as Metin Topuz, of having links with FETO, the group responsible for the July 15 coup attempt that killed at least 249 people. Turkey considers FETO to be a terrorist organisation.

The deputy prime minister, foreign minister, and minister of energy and natural resources will also accompany Yildirim, for the meeting with the US Vice President Mike Pence, the prime minister’s office said in a written statement.  

The office said the meeting aims to boost Turkey-US cooperation and resolve differences of opinion on some subjects. 

Gulen’s extradition

One of those differences is over FETO leader Fetullah Gulen, who Turkey has tried to have extradited since 2013.

Ankara stepped up the pressure for his extradition after the July 15 coup attempt. 

US authorities have said that Turkey has yet to provide enough evidence for the US Justice Department to act on the request.

During a press conference last week, Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said Turkey completed all legal processes and provided all evidence necessary to US authorities for Gulen’s extradition.

Talks on the FETO leader’s extradition will be at the top of the agenda for the meeting in Washington. 

Charges against former minister 

Another crucial topic Yildirim plans to discuss is the recent investigation of Turkey's former economy minister and official of a state-run bank. 

US prosecutors charged former Turkish economy minister Zafer Caglayan, and deputy general manager of Turkey's Halkbank Mehmet Hakan Atilla, with conspiring to evade US sanctions against Iran. 

The indictment broadens a case targeting Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab over sanctions evasion.

Zarrab was arrested in March 2016 and the deputy general manager of Halkbank was charged in March of this year in the same case.

The former minister's case was made public in September.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised the charges as politically motivated and called on Washington to review the move.

“I told Obama and his administration that we won’t be part of the sanctions against Iran," Erdogan said.

"We have bilateral and crucial relations with them, and part of our petrol and natural gas purchases come from Iran. Naturally, our economy minister is one of the people who dealt with these purchases," the Turkish president added.

Visa crisis

The US embassy in Ankara announced it would suspend bilateral visa services “for security reasons,” following the detention of Metin Topuz.

Turkey reacted immediately, losing no time in implementing its own suspension, and went even further saying, “There will be also no service at border gates and no e-visa services for US citizens.” 

Turkish prosecutors accuse Topuz of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and Turkey’s government,” and of “spying.”

The prosecution's indictment claims that 58-year-old Topuz had contact with 121 high-ranking FETO members and helped the FETO suspects to flee Turkey, especially those who fled to the United States. 

Yildirim’s first US visit since Donald Trump's administration took office is a crucial step in resolving the visa crisis between Ankara and Washington, who both say they want to settle the issue. 

Source: TRT World