U.S. embassy in Turkey says resumes processing visas on "limited basis"

WASHINGTON D.C. (UPDATES WITH THE TURKISH STATEMENT) - The United States has resumed processing visas at its missions in Turkey on a "limited basis", the embassy said in an statement on Monday, in what could signal a tentative improvement in the ongoing diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Turkey and the United State mutually suspended all non-immigrant visa services on October 8, after Turkey's arrest of a U.S. consulate employee sharply escalated tension between the two NATO allies.

On a statement released on Twitter regarding the re-opening of limited visa services in Turkey, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said the following:

We have received initial high-level assurances from the Government of Turkey that there are no additional local employees of our Mission in Turkey under investigation. We have also received initial assurances from the Government of Turkey that our local staff will not be detained or arrested for performing their official duties and Turkish authorities will inform the U.S. government in advance if the Government of Turkey intends to detain or arrest a member of our local staff in the future.

Based on these preliminary assurances, we believe the security posture has improved sufficiently to allow for the resumption of limited visa services to Turkey. We continue to have serious concerns about the existing cases against arrested local employees of our Mission in Turkey. We are also concerned about the case against U.S. citizens who have been arrested under the state of emergency. U.S. officials will continue to engage with their Turkish counterparts to seek a satisfactory resolution of these cases.

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert also issued the same statement which was tweeted by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara earlier. It seems, from the official statement, that the U.S. did receive "high-level" assurances from Turkey that "there are no additional local employees under investigation."

On Friday evening, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly had a phone conversation. The US State Department, despite Ahval's repeated inquiries, did not issue any readout regarding the call. It is not clear yet whether it was during the phone call on Friday where the high level Turkish officials gave the assurances regarding local employees of US missions in Turkey. The US statement also emphasizes Washington's continuing "serious concerns about the existing cases against arrested local employees." There are currently two local U.S. workers being arrested in Turkey; Metin Topuz and Hamza Ulucay. There are also about a dozen U.S. and U.S.-Turkey citizens have been jailed in Turkey for a year or more. Among them, most notably, Pastor Andrew Brunson. U.S. statement expresses "concern" with regards to these arrests "under the state of emergency."

U.S. State Department so far has not adequately explained what the new "limited services" are in the statement. For now, it appears, the Turkish government gave the assurances Washington has been asking for. Though, two U.S. Consulate workers also appear to be staying under arrest for the time being. 

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım arrived Washington on Monday and expected to meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. The visa crisis is expected to be top of the agenda.

On its website, U.S. Embassy in Ankara also provided a statement, noting on the limited nature of the visa procedure, also advising applicants not to make any travel arrangements before they physically receive their visas:

The U.S. Mission in Turkey has resumed processing non-immigrant visas on a limited basis.

Turkish citizens with valid visas may continue to travel to the United States. Turkish citizens are also welcome to apply for a nonimmigrant visa outside of Turkey whether or not they maintain a residence in that country. Please note that an applicant applying outside of Turkey will need to pay the application fee for services in that country, even if a fee has previously been paid for services in Turkey.

Three hours after the statement by the U.S., the Turkish Embassy in Washington D.C. released a counter-statement over Twitter, denying that the Turkish government provided any assurances regarding the U.S. personnel, and accusing the U.S. statement for not "reflecting the truth". What initially appeared to be a good start for Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim's Washington visit before meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence, may turned out to be a start of new crisis between the countries. The Turkish Embassy statement, which was tweeted by the Embassy account, follows:

Resumption of limited visa services for Turkish and U.S. citizens by the respective missions of both countries is a positive development.

Turkey is a state of law and our government cannot provide any assurances regarding files that are subject of ongoing legal processes.

No foreign mission personnel has been subjected to legal investigation for performing their official duties in Turkey. The personnel employed by the U.S. has been the subject of a judicial process not because of his official duties but due to very serious charges against him.

In the period ahead, it is the duty of the independent judiciary to initiate legal proceedings against those who overstep their consular duties and commit crimes in Turkey.

On the other hand, at the meeting held in Ankara on the 18th of October 2017 with the participation of Turkish and U.S. officials, the two sides agreed on enhancing information sharing on a mutual basis concerning judicial matters and consular cooperation.

The reference to the security situation in the Embassy's statement does not reflect the truth, and is considered odd since Turkey has taken all the necessary measures for the security of all diplomatic and consular missions in Turkey, including those of the US, and as the US side stated at every occasion that there is no need for additional measures.

Turkey also has a very serious concerns about the ongoing cases against Turkish citizens in the U.S.

Turkish officials will continue to engage with their American counterparts to seek a satisfactory resolution of their cases.