Ilhan Tanir
Oct 27 2017

Erdoğan tone main obstacle to U.S.-Turkey visa row solution


Even though talks between a U.S. State Department delegation and Turkish officials on tit-for-tat visa bans have not made any clear progress, diplomatic sources in Washington have suggested the United States might revise its side of the restrictions.

But the most significant obstacle to a decrease in tension appears to be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself who has been giving increasingly angry speeches about the stand-off between the NATO allies.

If the tone softens, some in Washington have suggested the U.S. State Department could consider easing the restrictions by, for example, making exemptions for those applying for student visas. Almost everyone agrees that freezing all visa services on a country of 80 million people is a heavy sanction. But Erdoğan's rhetoric both keeps the crisis alive and deepens it further.

In 2012, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, prohibiting some Russian officials from entering the United States as punishment for the death of Russian researcher, lawyer and anti-corruption expert Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison. Over time other Russian citizens were added to the list. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. administration would turn to a version of the Magnitsky Act and target members and allies of Turkey’s ruling AK Party.
 
Last week, some Turkish news agencies reported a group of Turkish officials from the Justice Ministry were denied visas to the United States.
 
During the first week of September, Congress passed a law suggesting Turkish officials responsible for the detention of U.S. citizens in Turkey should not be allowed to enter the United States, even if they hold cabinet positions. The proposal was accepted unanimously.
 
U.S. officials believe Turkey is conducting 'hostage diplomacy'

U.S. State Department officials have expressed the feeling that Pastor Andrew Brunson, jailed in Turkey for more than a year, and two Turkish U.S. consular staff are being held hostage as bargaining chips.

Even though senior U.S. officials have avoided using the word "hostage", they have said the Turkish government is attempting to “squeeze” the United States. They believe the real goal of these arrests is to get Washington to extradite Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, due to go on trial in New York on charges of circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran, more than Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based supposed mastermind behind last year’s failed coup. 

These senior officials are convinced the arrest of Brunson was on the initiative of a local prosecutor but over time, top political figures became embroiled in the case.
 
Turkish side demanding Senior level diplomacy

Besides a so-called working group between the United States and Turkey, Turkish officials are demanding a senior-level official visit every three months, just like that led by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Jonathan Cohen last week.
 
Americans refused co-operation 

While Erdoğan continues to criticise the United States, the Turkish side of the talks has pushed for stronger cooperation between U.S. and Turkish law enforcement agencies. This demand came as a surprise to the Americans. U.S. officials would usually be open to such collaboration, and have even demanded it in the past, but nevertheless rejected it. While there was no full explanation why the offer was rejected, it was likely linked to the arrest of two Turkish staff of the U.S. Consulate whose primary mission was to collaborate with Turkish law justice agencies.
 
Russian S-400 systems

While Erdoğan and senior AK Party officials insist Turkey has paid a deposit to buy Russian S-400 air defence missiles, U.S. State Department officials are still not sure whether Turkey has fully committed to the deal. They believe Turkey is using the S400s as leverage to negotiate a cheaper price for U.S.-made Patriot systems.
 
Are there any positive developments between these countries?

Yes. Two issues appear to be breathing some oxygen into the toxic environment.
The first is that U.S. officials have pledged to put pressure on the European financing of the armed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and ask European banks to block money flows. The impression was that the Americans were serious about the commitment this time.
 
The second positive issue is that both sides are on roughly the same page on the Kurdish Regional Government’s referendum on independence in northern Iraq.