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.'"


Jovial gestures belie multiple disputes

May 16, 2017: Trump welcomes Erdogan to Washington, 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.


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.


First anniversary of coup attempt

July 15, 2017: Turkey marks the first anniversary of the failed coup attempt. 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. The refusal of the US to extradite Gulen has been a major sore spot in relations.


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.


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.


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.


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.


At odds over Russian missiles

December through August, 2018: In December, Turkey announced it would buy the Russian S-400 missile system, which is incompatable with NATO systems. The US Congress has included a provision in a defense bill that would cut Turkey out of the F-35 fighter jet program if it moves forward with the S-400 deal.


Release the pastor ... or else

August 1, 2018: The US sanctions Turkey's interior and justice ministers over the continued detention of pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson had been moved from prison to house arrest in late July, but that fell short of US demands for his immediate release and end to terror and espionage charges. Brunson was arrested almost two years ago.

'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.

Related Subjects


A dumbfounded Angela Merkel

In 2015, the cover of the Turkish satire magazine LeMan depicted the German chancellor with a puzzled look on her face, sitting next to the Turkish President Erdogan wearing a sultan's attire. She wonders, "Where in the world have I landed?" LeMan is one of Istanbul's three leading satire magazines. Turkey's Prime Minister Davutoglu once called it "immoral."


Imprisoned activists

The failed coup in July 2016 fundamentally changed Turkey. Since then, 150,000 people have suddenly lost their positions and 40,000 have been imprisoned - journalists, authors, activists. Many of them are held in detention awaiting a trial that's never held. The drawing shown above, by 66-year-old cartoonist Izel Rozental, dealt with this issue in August 2016.


Gülen is everywhere

Erdogan has accused Fethullah Gülen of plotting the attempted coup, and has since persecuted alleged members of the exiled cleric's movement. Cartoonist Yigit Özgür has caricatured the fact that many Turks believe Erdogan's exaggerated blanket accusations: One man says, "90 percent of all water melons are said to be Gülen followers." "Hmmm, could be," replies the other.


Critical voices unwanted

With 51.3 percent Yes votes, the constitutional referendum held in April broadened Erdogan's powers. During the demonstrations ahead of the referendum, the media was not allowed to freely cover supporters of the opposition's No - "Hayir" - position. This led Ipek Özsüslü to draw this cartoon in March. "Your resistance is calcified," says the plumber with a Hayir on his bottom.


The interests of the US

Among the works on show at the exhibition "Schluss mit Lustig" (Get Serious), Erdogan is not the only one targeted by Turkish cartoonists. This drawing criticizes Trump's "Muslim travel ban." Referring to US soldiers, the child asks, "When will we finally expell them, papa?" The father darkly replies, "When our oil is all used up."


Sex = taboo

As one of the rare female cartoonists in Turkey, Ramize Erer addresses feminist topics and breaks taboos surrounding sex. She depicts explicit female sexuality, often offending the country's conservatives. One of her recurring characters is the busty, men-devouring "bad girl." Sexuality is one of the biggest taboos in Turkey.


The state of the world

Artist Mehmet Cagcag shows his views of the current state of the planet with this drawing: Dynamite is attached to world clocks, and from Baghdad to Athens, from Berlin to France, international cities are ticking bombs. The cartoonist does not reveal when and if they'll actually explode.


Third Bosphorus Bridge

With his drawing from 2014, Murat Basol reacts to the then-being-built third bridge over the Bosphorus. Unlike Erdogan, the cartoonist does not see the bridge linking the Asian and European sides of Istanbul as a demonstration of Turkey's progress, but rather as a polluting construction project that will lead to more traffic and exhaust fumes.


Searching for free spaces

Free spaces are no longer available everywhere in Turkey; one has to look for them and even fight for them. That's the idea transmitted by Zeynep Özatalay's cartoon. The authors, musicians and painters depicted in this drawing succeed in pushing back the void. The cartoon was published in the newspaper BirGün, an open critic of Erdogan's party, the AKP.

ls/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)