Turkey: US sacrifices a 'strategic partner' for ambassador, says Erdogan

Turkey's president called Washington's actions in the wake of a controversial arrest "unacceptable." Amid accusations of harboring a suspected Gulenist, US diplomats have denied hiding him at the consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said Washington was undermining its relationship with military ally Turkey by supporting the US ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, in a growing spat.

The two NATO countries have watched relations deteriorate after Turkish police last week arrested a locally hired US consulate worker who Ankara accused of having links to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim preacher blamed for a failed coup last year.

The arrest prompted Washington to stop issuing non-immigrant visas from its embassy and consulates in Turkey, while Ankara responded in kind hours later.

"Let me be very clear, the person who caused this is the ambassador here. It is unacceptable for the United States to sacrifice a strategic partner to an ambassador who doesn't know his place," Erdogan said in a speech to provincial governors.

"If the ambassador in Ankara is leading the grand United States, then shame on you," Erdogan added. "Someone should have said: 'You cannot treat your strategic partner this way, you can't behave like this.'"

Politics

Jovial gestures belie multiple disputes

May 16: Trump welcomes Erdogan to Washington's Oval Office, saying both presidents have a "great relationship" and would make it "even better." Erdogan congratulates Trump on his "legendary" 2016 election win but complains bitterly about US arming of the Kurdish YPG militia, claiming that its inclusion in the US-led campaign against IS in in war-torn Syria provides a cover for Kurdish separatism.

Politics

Melee becomes further irritant

May 17: As Erdogan ends his visit, Voice of America video footage emerges showing his guards assaulting Kurdish protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington. A month later, US authorities issue arrest warrants for 12 members of Erdogan's security detail, who had long returned to Turkey. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the assaults breached "legitimate" free speech.

Politics

First anniversary of coup attempt

July 15: President Erdogan, his wife Emine and Turkish parliament speaker Ismail Kahraman recall the failed 2016 coup attempt that left some 250 people dead, including Erdogan's campaign manager, Erol Elcok. In a post-coup bid crackdown 50,000 people were arrested, accused of links to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, an Erdogan ally turned rival. Tens of thousands more face job suspensions.

Politics

Turkey 'uneasy' about US arming of Kurdish militia

August 23: US Defense Secretary James Mattis visits Ankara as the Pentagon stresses US commitment to bilateral relations and "honest dialogue." Mattis had just visited Iraq to assess the anti-IS campaign. Erdogan tells Turkish media that Turkey will thwart any attempt by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) to establish a "terror corridor" in northern Syria through to the Mediterranean.

Politics

Turkey-based US pastor still under arrest

August 24: Turkey issues a fresh arrest order against Turkey-based American pastor Andrew Brunson, who's been in detention since late 2016. The pro-government newspaper Sabah says Brunson faces charges of attempting to overthrow parliament and espionage. On September 29, Erdogan offers to swap Brunson for Gulen. In a rebuff, the US State Department calls again for the pastor's release.

Politics

Turkey arrests US consulate employee

October 5: Turkish authorities arrest Metin Topuz, a Turkish national employed at the US consulate in Istanbul. He is formally charged with espionage and collaboration in the 2016 coup attempt. The US embassy in Ankara subsequently says it is "deeply disturbed" by the arrest. It's reportedly the second since March, when a Turkish US consulate employee was arrested in Adana.

Politics

US and Turkey suspend their respective visa services

October 8-9: The United States suspends its issuance of non-immigrant visa applications to Turkish nationals, saying it has to "reassess" Turkish readiness to respect security at US diplomatic missions. Turkey suspends its visa services for US nationals and summons another staffer at the US consulate in Istanbul.

Politics

Attempts to make amends

November 6: The US Embassy in Ankara announces that it is reinstating its visa program for Turkish tourists on a "limited" basis after receiving assurances from the government that no employees will be detained "for carrying out official duties." Shortly thereafter, Turkey confirms that it is also resuming visa services for US citizens one day before Prime Minister Yildirim visits Washington.

'No one's hiding'

Earlier this week, Turkish prosecutors summoned another local employee working at the US consulate in Istanbul. Police later detained his wife, his son and his daughter for questioning.

Erdogan claimed on Thursday that US diplomatic staff in the country were hiding the local employee in the consulate, but Ambassador Bass denied the allegations, saying: "No one's hiding at any of our facilities."

Read more: Turkey's Erdogan hopes Donald Trump will resolve spat

Last month, Washington froze arms sales to Erdogan's bodyguards after they clashed with Kurdish protesters during the Turkish president's official visit to the US for a meeting with his American counterpart.

Since a failed coup in July 2016 that left more than 240 people dead, Turkey has detained at least 50,000 people and suspended 150,000 more from work for suspected links to Gulen. The US has refused to extradite the Muslim preacher, who has denied any involvement in a conspiracy to topple the Turkish government.

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The interests of the US

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ls/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)