The U.S. and Turkey each suspended visa services for citizens looking to visit the other country, a sharp escalation of a diplomatic spat that sent the lira down more than 6 percent against the U.S. dollar.
The moves followed the Oct. 4 arrest of a Turkish national who works at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul for alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hours after the Trump administration halted visa services in Turkey on Sunday, Erdogan’s government responded in kind, even repeating verbatim much of the U.S. statement.
Both sides said “recent events” had forced them to “reassess the commitment” of the other to the security of mission facilities and personnel. Only two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump had heaped praise on Erdogan when they met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, saying the Turkish leader “is becoming a friend of mine” and “frankly, he’s getting high marks.”
The U.S. on Thursday called charges against the man “wholly without merit,” saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest and “by leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.” Turkey responded by saying the arrested Turkish citizen wasn’t part of the U.S. Consulate’s staff but a “local employee.”
The lira was at 3.7323 per dollar as of 10:37 a.m. in Singapore on Monday, down more than 3 percent from Friday’s close, and touched as low as 3.8533. The currency is heading for a seventh day of declines, the longest stretch since May 2016.
Relations between Turkey, a NATO member, and some Western countries soured after the failed 2016 coup. Erdogan has accused U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen of organizing the attempted overthrow, and has become increasingly impatient with the U.S. for not turning him over.
“I would expect that there will be some sort of de-escalation at the leadership level — Trump and Erdogan will speak or meet,” said Murat Yurtbilir, who specializes in Turkish affairs at the Australian National University. “But the underlying problems won’t go away: the Gulen issue, Turkey’s slow switch toward Russia’s policy in Syria and the economy. ”
In a briefing on Sept. 27, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. had received “several requests” for Gulen’s extradition but “haven’t talked about this in a while.”
“We continue to evaluate it, take a look at the materials that the Turkish government has provided us,” Nauert said. In a July visit to Istanbul, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that he hoped the U.S.-Turkey relationship was starting to be put “on the mend.”
Erdogan in July accused foreigners of attempting to break Turkey apart and vowed to crush “agents” acting against the country. He gained sweeping powers in April after a tight referendum that critics said was fraudulent. A Council of Europe agency has since put Turkey on its watchlist, saying crackdowns on opponents have compromised human rights and the rule of law.
In recent months, Erdogan has increased coordination with Russia and Iran amid deepening tensions with the U.S., exacerbated by Washington’s decision to deliver arms to Kurdish groups that Turkey views as terrorists.
More than 37,000 U.S. citizens traveled to Turkey in 2016, representing about 1.7 percent of the total number, and down from 88,301 in 2015, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Until August this year, 41,202 Americans had visited. Turkey has been attracting fewer visitors since 2014 amid concerns about terrorism, regional instability and the failed coup.
The U.S. National and Tourist Office doesn’t break out the number of Turkish visitors to the U.S. on its website. Turkey isn’t among the top 20 countries sending visitors to the U.S.
The visa ban puts Turkey in the same boat as Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen, all of which have had travel restrictions imposed on them by U.S. this year. The Trump administration says visitors from those nations could be terrorists.
“Turkey, which has been in the western camp since the 1940s, is lumped together with these countries?” said Yurtbilir. “This is the lowest level in Turkish-U.S. relations.”By Tugce Ozsoy and David Tweed