The diplomatic row between the U.S. and Turkey, sparked by the arrest of the senior liaison officer at the American consulate in Istanbul over the weekend, escalated Monday when Ankara issued a warrant for a second employee of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the country.
Ankara has yet to confirm the arrest warrant, but local reports say the country’s security services were seeking to question the unnamed consulate employee, who remains in hiding on the grounds of the American consulate, regarding their alleged ties to last July’s failed coup attempt. The individual’s wife and child are already in government custody and reportedly being interrogated, after their arrest in the northern Turkish city of Amasya.
The warrant comes less than a week after Turkish security services detained Metin Topuz, a Turkish national who was working as liaison officer of the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul. Ankara ordered his arrest as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Erdogan regime believes was behind last year’s attempted military coup.
Mr. Gulen, who lives in exile in Saylorsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a former Erdogan ally turned bitter foe who was tried and convicted in absentia in Turkey for attempting to overthrow the government. The U.S. has thus far refused to extradite him back to Turkey to face sentencing.
The identity of the U.S. consulate employee being sought by Turkish authorities, who is also accused of being a Gulen ally, was uncovered during the ongoing investigation into military and government officials linked to the coup attempt.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusolglu discussed the tense state of bilateral relations over the weekend.
Senior officials from the U.S. embassy in Ankara also met with their Turkish counterparts on Monday, Ali Cinar, president of the Turkish Heritage Organization, said Monday.
Mr. Topuz is reportedly being held on charges of “attempting to disrupt constitutional order, espionage and attempting to eradicate the Turkish government,” conservative Turkish news outlet Yeni Safak reported Monday. The individual, who is also a Turkish citizen, who being sought by local authorities is accused of the same crimes against the state as Mr. Topuz.
Aside from ties to Gulen sympathizers, Ankara claims Mr. Topuz was also in contact with the al Qaeda cell responsible for a series of suicide bombings. Several German citizens have also been detained by Turkish officials, the BBC reports.
Mr. Topuz’s arrest, carried out on “baseless, anonymous allegations against our employees undermine and devalue [the] longstanding partnership” between Washington and Ankara, said a U.S. embassy statement shortly after Mr. Topuz’s detention. Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass struck a harsher tone, accusing Ankara of seeking “vengeance rather than justice” with its arrest of Mr. Topuz.
The State Department suspended issuing any U.S. visas to Turkish citizens on Sunday, shortly after Mr. Topuz’s detention. Turkish diplomats in the U.S. quickly followed suit, saying in a statement that all visa services in America are suspended “effective immediately.”
In the months after the attempted coup, thousands of Turkish military and government officials, as well as journalists and private citizens have been arrested and charged with conspiring with top military brass to orchestrate the armed uprising.
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