Dubai: The US and Turkish officials will meet in the coming days to try to defuse a diplomatic crisis over Turkey’s arrest of some US citizens and local consular workers, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan R. Cohen, in charge of European and Eurasian affairs, is expected to head the US delegation to Turkey next week, NTV television said on its website, citing unidentified US State Department officials. Bozdag’s announcement comes after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told his Turkish counterpart that the Trump administration is profoundly “concerned” about the detentions.
“Turkey-US relations have passed numerous tests, and we can overcome such crises,” Bozdag said in an interview with Haberturk television on Thursday. He denied an accusation from the US ambassador to Turkey that the detainees’ access to lawyers had been restricted.
US missions in Turkey froze visa services after a second Turkish employee was detained last week. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the arrest to last year’s failed coup, US Ambassador John Bass told reporters in Ankara on Wednesday that he had concluded it was due to work carried out on behalf of the American government. Erdogan has suggested Bass may have gone rogue, a claim rejected by US officials.
“What we are going through with the US is not a complicated problem, it could be solved in one day,” Erdogan’s spokesman Ebrahim Kalin told reporters in Istanbul on Thursday. “The US should respect legal processes, we are having difficulty in understanding this kind of excessive and meaningless reaction.”
Erdogan blamed his country’s dispute with the US on the outgoing US ambassador on Thursday, saying Washington was “sacrificing” relations with its Nato ally.
“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 told provincial governors in Ankara.
He also accused the US of hiding a suspect linked to the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan in the American consulate.
Relations between Turkey, a Nato member, and some Western countries soured after the attempted coup. Erdogan has accused US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen of organising the attempted overthrow, and has become increasingly impatient with the US for not turning him over.
In a purge that followed, about 110,000 people have been removed from state jobs; banks, businesses and media outlets were seized or shut down; and tens of thousands, including army officers, academics and journalists, remain in detention. Among them is an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who has been held in a Turkish prison since October.
Both Trump and US Vice-President Mike Pence have called on Erdogan in private meetings to set Brunson free.
On Thursday, a rights advocacy group reported “growing evidence” of abuses in police custody in Turkey against people accused of links to terror groups or to last year’s coup attempt.
Human Rights Watch reported at least 11 cases of “serious abuse in detention”, including beatings, threats, sexual assault or threats of sexual assault. It also reported five cases of individuals’ abductions and disappearance.
The group’s Europe and Central Asia director, Hugh Williamson, said: “As evidence mounts that torture in police custody has returned to Turkey, the government urgently needs to investigate and call a halt to it.”
Turkey’s government insists it has a “zero tolerance” policy against torture.
Turkey has arrested more than 50,000 people as part of a vast crackdown in the aftermath of the coup.
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said the diplomatic tension was not affecting military cooperation. “The US and Turkish military forces continue to work well together,” he said.
“We maintain a very close collaboration, very close communication, the military-to-military interaction and integration has not been affected by this,” Mattis told reporters as he travelled to a military headquarters in Florida.
“We are doing good work with them, military to military,” he stressed.