The U.S. Embassy said recent events have forced it to reassess Ankara’s commitment to the security of U.S. facilities and personnel.
The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said it is suspending, effective immediately, all nonimmigrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in Turkey.
The move on Sunday means Turks will not receive visas to visit the United States unless they plan to move there.
A statement released by the US mission in the Turkish capital said recent events had forced the US government to reassess Ankara’s commitment to the security of US facilities and personnel.
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“In order to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while this assessment unfolds, we have immediately suspended all nonimmigrant visa services at all U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey,” the statement said.
Ankara retaliated later on Sunday, saying it would stop issuing nonimmigrant visas to US citizens.
Arrest of an employee of the American consulate
The move comes days after an employee of the US consulate in Istanbul was arrested for alleged links to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim leader accused by Ankara of attempting a coup. last year. Gulen denies any involvement.
Washington said it was “deeply troubled” by the employee’s arrest.
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Turkish news agency Anadolu identified the consulate employee as a male Turkish citizen.
He said he was arrested on Wednesday evening for espionage and attempting to undermine the constitutional order and the Turkish government.
US-Turkish tensions have risen over Washington’s military support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria, seen by Ankara as an extension of the outlawed PKK, which has waged an armed campaign for three decades in southeastern Turkey.
Turkey has also lobbied, so far unsuccessfully, for the United States to extradite Gulen.
“It is clear that this [suspension of visa services] is just one more escalation in the war of words between the United States and Turkey,” said Al Jazeera’s Tom Ackerman, reporting from Washington, DC.
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Ackerman said Turkish authorities “have imprisoned more than a dozen Turkish-American citizens” living in Turkey over the past year, including an Izmir-based Christian pastor.
Andrew Brunson, who led a church in the western city of Izmir, has been detained by Turkish authorities since October 2016, accused of being a member of Gulen’s group.
“You can see it’s not just about one man’s accusations at the consulate in Istanbul,” Ackerman said.
Al Jazeera’s Koseoglu confirmed that the US Ambassador to Ankara, in a recent meeting with Turkish journalists, alleged that “Turkey is using those arrested as hostages to gain leverage in negotiations diplomatic relations with the United States”.