Turkey no longer recognises US ambassador, Erdogan says, escalating row with Washington
Turkey no longer recognises the US ambassador to Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday, toughening his rhetoric amid a worsening row with the United States, sparked by the arrest of a US consulate employee.
“We do not recognise him as the representative of the United States of America in Turkey, I say this quite openly,” Erdogan said about John Bass during a news conference while on a trip to Serbia.
“We did not start this problem,” Erdogan said, accusing the US of being responsible for the sharp deterioration in relations.
It was an escalation from the day before, when the Turkish leader had only expressed sadness over the row.
On Sunday, the US stopped offering non-immigrant visa services in Turkey, citing security concerns. Hours later, Turkish missions in the US took a similar step and also froze US passport holders out of an electronic visa system.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US decision was coordinated with the White House.
The Turkish president said that if the suspension of visa services was decided at the top levels in Washington, then Ankara has nothing more to discuss with the US
Nauert also said the State Department is disappointed by the arrest last week of a Turkish employee of the US consulate in Istanbul.
Allowing the employee access to a lawyer “would be a good start to reduce tension,” Nauert said.
The employee is the second US staff member arrested this year, while a third employee is being sought for questioning while his family members are being held in custody.
Erdogan implied “agents” had infiltrated the US consulate in Istanbul, saying: “All this shows us that something is going on in the consulate in Istanbul.”
The president’s words appeared to undercut earlier efforts by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to work towards a resolution.
“I hope that this tension will end soon,” Yildirim told members of the ruling Islamic-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), noting that citizens of both countries were being disadvantaged by the visa freeze.
“We started a legal process against some people who work at the American missions,” said the prime minister. “So what?”