Tillerson speaks with Turkish counterpart about visa spat


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed "profound concern" over the detention of U.S. diplomatic staff in Turkey, the State Department said on October 11.

The strained relations between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies escalated last week after Turkey arrested a Turkish employee of the USA consulate on suspicion of links to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of being behind a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

The dispute was triggered by the arrest of local U.S staff in Turkey, prompting the United States on Sunday to suspend non-immigrant visa services there.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said on a visit to Washington that Turkey is "safeguarding" the USA employees and "we don't want this dispute to last more than a second".

Hours later, Ankara issued a similar suspension on visas for USA citizens. He said that he couldn't comment on the charges or evidence against the two because Turkey hasn't provided the USA with that information. Turkey retaliated by halting visas services in the United States.

"I personally find it odd that high-level US officials did not conduct any means of communication with our foreign minister".

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Erdogan also rebuffed criticism of Turkey's arrest of the consulate employee, alleging he had ties to US -based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of masterminding a coup attempt previous year.

"Relations between Turkey and the U.S. are stable", he said.

Bozdag also added that the consulate employee had not demanded lawyer access and that the U.S. mission was free to apply to send a lawyer to see him.

Turkey's ties with the USA have frayed since the failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016.

"We don't want this dispute to last more than a second", Simsek said of the current visa spat at a briefing on US business opportunities in Turkey at the US Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara on Wednesday, US Ambassador John Bass said the US sought an official explanation from Ankara concerning the arrests. "For some reason his side of interactions are suddenly being classified as support for terrorism or membership in a terrorist organization, and I have yet to see a consistent description of which terrorist organization he is supposed to be a member of".