The US and Turkey have announced travel restrictions against each other in a diplomatic row.
On Sunday, the two NATO allies announced that they had suspended processing non-immigrant visas to citizens of the other country. The move will affect thousands of Americans and Turks planning to travel. At a press conference in the Ukraine, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proclaimed the move “upsetting”.
Why has Turkey suspended American visas?
The complicated situation takes some unpicking. The US Embassy in Ankara has stated that recent moves by Turkey have forced the US government to take a new look at the Turkish government’s commitment to assuring the safety of US facilities and personnel. This statement refers to last week’s arrest of a Turkish employee of the US consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish government says the employee has ties to Fethullah Gulen - the US-based Turkish cleric who is accused of plotting last year’s attempted coup.
However, the US says the arrest was made without any basis, and accusations were “wholly without merit”. Following this, they introduced the visa restrictions.
In retaliation, Turkey’s embassy in Washington enacted a similar restriction, banning Americans entering Turkey. The Turkish government says the suspension applies to visas in passports, e-visas and visas acquired at the border.
On Monday, a US diplomat in Ankara spoke out against the suspension, saying it was causing “unnecessary tensions” between the two countries.
Thousands of tourists affected
While the number of US tourists travelling to Turkey has dropped in the last three years, thousands still journey to the popular destination: last year, almost 27,000 Americans travelled to Turkey.
In the battle to defeat ISIS, US and Turkish relations have become increasingly strained as the two nations clash over the US support for the Syrian Kurds who are leading the fight against the radical Islamist group. This group is considered by Turkey to be allies of the PKK, a group that has waged a long insurgency against Turkey, leaving more than 40,000 people dead.
This deterioration in relations happened while Barack Obama was in the White House, and experts expected things to improve once Donald Trump was elected, since Trump has long expressed his admiration for Erdogan. However, under Trump a US initiative to directly arm the Kurdish militias has caused diplomatic relations to falter even further.
What will need to happen?
Turkey and USA will need to reach an agreement. For each side to reinstate visas, Washington will most probably ask the Turkish government to release the consulate worker, and assure the safety of staff at other US diplomatic sites.
As long-standing NATO allies and major trading partners, the two countries have too much to risk to not come to an understanding - and quickly. Turkey’s location makes it a strategic partner for the US in curbing trouble in nearby Middle Eastern countries.
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