Turkey’s Erdogan refuses to recognise US ambassador as visa spat escalates

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that he does not recognise the US ambassador to the country as a representative of the US government, adding that Washington should recall the diplomat if he does not reverse a decision to partially suspend visa services between the two countries. 

US Ambassador John Bass suspended consulate operations on Sunday night after security services arrested Turkish national Metin Tupuz, a consulate worker at the US Embassy in Ankara, on charges of spying. Turkey retaliated with a similar move. 

The US was to blame for the latest spat between the two countries, Mr Erdogan said at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia on Tuesday, asking aloud how it was possible for “agents” – the arrested worker and a second involved individual at the mission – to infiltrate the US consulate. 

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The comments come after an earlier speech by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to parliament in which he called on Washington to lift the new restrictions. 

“Who are you punishing?” Mr Yildirim said. “You are making your citizens and ours pay the price… We call on the United States to be more reasonable. The issue must of course be resolved as soon as possible,” he said, adding that the US’ behaviour was “unbecoming” of an ally and that Turkey did not need Washington’s permission to prosecute its citizens. 

The latest dispute has both caused Turkish markets to plummet and driven relations between DC and Ankara to a new low.

Turkey has defended its arrest of the consulate worker, whom it says has links to the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government blames for orchestrating the failed 2016 military coup. Mr Gulen has denied involvement – a stance backed up by the majority of Western intelligence services. 

Mr Bass has alleged that his embassy has not been told what evidence exists to prove a link between the employee and the exiled Muslim leader, and that Mr Tupuz has not had adequate access to a lawyer. The visa suspension would depend on “the extent of Turkey’s protection for the embassy and its staff”, he said in a video-recorded message.

State-run Anadolu Agency said the employee had allegedly communicated with former police chiefs in a 2013 corruption probe, an allegation which Mr Bass dismissed, saying it was part of his job description to talk to police officers. 

Relations between Turkey and the US have been tense in recent years over both US support for Kurdish militias in the Syrian civil war, which Ankara considers as terrorists, and Washington’s refusal to extradite Mr Gulen, who is resident in Pennsylvania, back to Turkey. 

In recent months, US decisions to indict a Turkish banker over violating US sanctions on Iran and 15 of Mr Erdogan’s own security guards after attacking peaceful protesters during a state visit in May have also angered Turkey. 

“Did you ask permission from us when you dragged a general manager from our national bank into jail?” Mr Yildirim said in his Tuesday speech. “Why are you harbouring Gulen? Does this fit our alliance or friendship?”

News agencies contributed to this report