International

Turkey, US discuss visa crisis in phone talks: state media

ANKARA: Turkey’s top diplomat and his American counterpart on Wednesday discussed the reciprocal suspension of visa services, in their first talks since the eruption of one of the worst crises between Washington and Ankara in years.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke by telephone with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and they “discussed the mutual suspensions of visa services”, state-run Anadolu news agency reported, without giving further details.

The dispute blew up last week when Turkey arrested a Turkish employee of the American consulate on suspicion of links to the group blamed for last year’s failed coup.

In response, the United States stopped issuing non-immigrant visas from its missions in Turkey, prompting Turkish missions in the US to hit back with a tit-for-tat measure of their own.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday stepped up one of the worst rows in decades between the two NATO allies by saying Turkey no longer regarded ambassador John Bass as the US representative in the country.

But after two days of acrimonious broadsides from Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had earlier on Wednesday struck a more conciliatory tone.

“We hope that relations between two allies will return to normal in a short time,” he said in the Turkish capital.

“At a time when global and regional tensions are escalating, we are not going to leave common sense behind,” he added.

READ MORE: Erdogan steps up US row with ambassador boycott

Turkish officials had expressed hope of a new page in Ankara-Washington relations under President Donald Trump after repeated bickering in the last months of Barack Obama’s term.

So far, Erdogan has been careful not to take aim at Trump during the dispute, putting the blame squarely on Bass.

But the State Department said that Bass had been operating with the full authority of the US government. Bass is at the end of his posting and is due to leave Turkey at the weekend.

Some Turkish officials have long alleged a US hand in the coup attempt on July 15 last year, which Ankara blames on the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Washington has dismissed claims it was involved as a ludicrous conspiracy theory and Gulen himself denies any link to the plot.

Ties have also frayed in recent months over the refusal of the US to extradite Gulen, and its support for Kurdish militias in Syria.

Meanwhile, American pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, has been held in Turkey since October 2016 on charges of being a member of Gulen’s group.

Erdogan suggested last month Turkey could release him in exchange for Gulen but Washington showed little interest in the proposal.

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