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Turkey summons US diplomat in escalating visa spat

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has summoned the US embassy's deputy chief in an escalating diplomatic row that has put both nations' visa services on ice.

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Angela Dewan, Gul Tuysuz
Laura Koran (CNN)
(CNN) — The Turkish Foreign Ministry has summoned the US embassy's deputy chief in an escalating diplomatic row that has put both nations' visa services on ice.

State-run news agency Anadolu reported that the Foreign Ministry planned to tell Philip Kosnett of the US mission in Ankara that they expected the US to lift its visa suspension, which affects all non-immigrant visa services in the country.

The latest tit-for-tat between Ankara and Washington began last week, when a staff member from the US consulate in Istanbul was arrested.

Washington responded with the visa freeze and Ankara responded by doing the same.

With some exceptions, the move effectively blocks Turks from travel to the United States, and vice versa, indefinitely.

"Recent events have forced the United States government to reassess the commitment of the government of Turkey to the security of US mission and personnel," a statement by the US mission in Ankara said on Sunday.

Hours after the US announcement, Turkey issued an almost identical statement with the two countries' names reversed.

US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass elaborated on the decision in a video message posted to YouTube Monday, saying, "this was not a decision we took lightly and it's a decision we took with great sadness."

Bass expressed concerns over the treatment of the arrested employee, who he described as a "Turkish staff member" who "works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens."

Citing news reports suggesting the arrest was related to the employee's communications with the Turkish government in his official capacity, Bass insisted, "speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity."

"This arrest has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the United States. If true, this would put the people who work with, and work at, and visit our diplomatic facilities at risk."

Bass said the US hopes the suspension of visa services will not last long, but added, "at this time we can't predict how long it will take to resolve this matter."

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday called the decision by the US to stop visa services "very saddening."

"It is sad that the (US) embassy in Ankara took this decision and started to apply it," he said during a news conference in Ukraine.

He said that the Turkish Foreign Ministry has contacted its US counterparts about the decision.

"When my minister told me about it I just said this: Turkey is a law state. First of all we are not a tribe or a tribal state. Our embassy (in Washington DC) should release a statement immediately same as theirs within the reciprocity principle. This is all about that."

Another US consular employee sought

State media named locally-hired Metin Topuz as the staff member arrested last week.

He is the second US consular staff member to be detained this year.

Topuz was charged for having links with Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.

Gulen is considered the main adversary of Erdogan -- the president blames the cleric for orchestrating an attempted military coup last year. Gulen has denied involvement in the coup.

The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office said in a statement published by Anadolu on Monday that a third US consular staff member was being sought for questioning.

That staff member's wife and adult child have already been arrested over alleged connections to the Gulen movement, the statement said. Prosecutors said they were led to the pair after interrogating Topuz.

Ankara has repeatedly pressured Washington to extradite Gulen since the coup, and the issue has become a major thorn in relations between the on-again-off-again allies.

Turkey has carried out a widespread purge since the failed coup, detaining tens of thousands of people it accuses of having links to Gulen, including several non-diplomatic US citizens.

NASA physicist Serkan Golge and American pastor Andrew Brunson are among them.

In February, another US consular staff member, Hamza Ulucay, was arrested over alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which both Turkey and the US consider a terrorist organization. Ulucay, a translator, was released and then re-arrested in March.

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