Inside the U.S.–Turkey visa row standoff

A recent U.S. State Department delegation visit to Turkey has done little to alleviate the stalemate over a three-week visa row between the two NATO allies, wrote Cansu Çamlıbel, the Washington correspondent of Hürriyet newspaper.

Her summary shows how a fundamental distrust between the two sides is driving the dispute:

In short, Washington is saying ‘guarantee that our personnel will be released and no-one else will be arrested’. Ankara is responding ‘we cannot make commitments on behalf of our courts’. Washington is saying, ‘then share some concrete evidence with us that our people are terrorists’. Ankara is saying ‘the evidence belongs to the courts; we cannot share it’. It does not look realistic to expect the U.S. to return its visa services to Turkey unless Ankara changes its position.

The American delegation, Çamlıbel said, was also extremely upset with the smear campaign labelling U.S. employees as terrorists and agents provocateurs in the Turkish pro-government press.

The U.S. side expresses its complaint like this: ‘It is as if certain people inside the Turkish state are seeking to condemn our personnel in public opinion. While this is the approach, we do not believe our personnel will be justly tried.’

This position may go some way to explaining recent U.S. State Department actions towards the flagship Turkish pro-government newspaper Sabah. Its columnist Hilal Kaplan was recently conspicuously disinvited from outgoing U.S. Ambassador John Bass’s farewell press conference, while its Washington correspondent Ragip Soylu kicked up a fuss after the State Department spokeswoman described his outlet as a ‘private-public partnership’.

The dispute began on Oct. 8, when the U.S. Embassy in Ankara issued a statement saying it would no longer accept non-immigrant visa applications in Turkey due to threats to the safety of its personnel. The Turkish Embassy in Washington quickly responded by restricting visa applications at Turkish missions in the United States.