The diplomatic relations between Washington and Ankara are rapidly deteorating amid the ongoing Turkish military effort in Syria’s Idlib province.
The US Mission to Turkey said on October 8 it was suspending non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in Turkey following the arrest of a consulate employee, prompting Turkey to halt visa services in the US.
“Recent events have forced the United States government to reassess the commitment of government of Turkey to the security of U.S. mission and personnel,” the mission in Ankara said in a statement. “In order to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey.”
The Turkish embassy in Washington followed suit with a similar statement:
“Recent events have forced the Turkish Government to reassess the commitment of Government of the U.S. to the security of Turkish Mission facilities and personnel. In order to minimize the number of visitors to our diplomatic and consular missions in the U.S. while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all visa services regarding the U.S. citizens at our diplomatic and consular facilities in the U.S.”
On October 4, Turkish authorities arrested Metin Topuz, a US Consulate employee of Turkish nationality, for alleged links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish government blames for last summer’s failed coup, Turkish Anadolu agency reports. Topuz is charged with espionage and attempts to damage the constitutional order and Turkey’s government.
Coincidentally, the Syrian rebel fighters backed by Turkish forces launched a military operation in Idlib province on October 8. Turkish forces shelled areas along with its border with Idlib. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the Free Syrian Army was carrying out the operation in Idlib, while Turkish forces provided support from inside Turkey’s borders. According to Erdogan, Russian forces are to provide support from the air.
The operation is being conducted after Iran and Russia, which back President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which supports the rebels, agreed on September 14 in Kazakhstan to reduce fighting between insurgents and the government in the northwest. The agreement laid out four de-escalation where rebels and government forces should halt hostilities, including air strikes, for six months. These zones covered the territories of Eastern Ghouta in the northern Damascus countryside, and the provinces of Idlib, Homs, Latakia, Aleppo, and Hama. The deal had been conducted with the the US representative observing, essentially leaving the US left out from the talks.