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U.S. and Turkey resume reciprocal issuing of visas but frictions remain

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Associated Press)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Associated Press)

The United States and Turkey began issuing reciprocal visas again on Thursday, more than two months after normal visa service was suspended in a dispute over the arrest of two U.S. diplomatic staffers in Istanbul — the latest friction between the two nominal allies.

The State Department said it was lifting the visa restrictions after it was assured by the Turkish government that U.S. Embassy employees would not be arrested when performing their official duties.

But the Turkish Embassy in Washington denied assurances were offered “concerning the ongoing judicial processes,” and suggested that the arrests were legal and justified.

“It is inappropriate to misinform the Turkish and American public that such assurances were provided,” the embassy said in a statement.

The dispute has aggravated the already tense relationship between the United States and Turkey, which is a member of the NATO military alliance. The two countries have clashed over U.S. support for Kurdish rebels in Syria and over Turkey’s demands that the U.S. extradite a Turkish cleric who lives in rural Pennsylvania. 

After a failed coup attempt killed more than 250 people in July 2016, Turkey’s autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, launched a harsh crackdown on his political opponents, arresting or firing tens of thousands of teachers, police, journalists, military officers and others.

Erdogan accused Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic educator and former political ally, of orchestrating the coup. Gulen, who has lived in a compound in the Pocono Mountains, has denied any involvement. 

The Justice Department has so far denied Turkey’s repeated demands to extradite Gulen.

Erdogan raised the issue again at the White House in May, but his visit ended in a public relations disaster when his security guards brutally beat peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. 

Two Turkish employees of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul were arrested this fall for alleged ties to the 2016 coup attempt. The U.S. responded by suspending most visa services at its missions in Turkey in October. The Turkish government reciprocated in November.

State Department officials said they have repeatedly demanded more information about any formal charges against the two employees. They reiterated on Thursday that “serious concerns” about the allegations remained.

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