Photo taken on April 2, 2015 shows U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey. TheUnited Stateshas suspended all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in Turkey, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced on Oct. 8, 2017. (Xinhua/He Canling)
ANKARA, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- Turkey has suspended all visa services at its diplomatic facilities in the United States, the Turkish Embassy in Washington announced late Sunday, shortly after a similar U.S. move.
The tit-for-tat travel services suspensions between the two NATO partners exposed a deepening diplomatic rift inflamed by the arrest of a Turkish employee at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.
"Recent events have forced the Turkish Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of the U.S. to the security of Turkish Mission facilities and personnel," the Turkish Embassy in Washington said in a statement issued late Sunday.
"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 missions in the U.S.," read the statement.
Ankara's retaliatory response, which very much resembles the U.S. statement in wording, came hours after the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced that it had suspended "all non-immigrant visa services at all U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey."
Non-immigrant visas are issued for individuals travelling to the United States for a temporary purpose such as visiting, studying and doing business.
However, the Turkish suspension went further, as it added in its statement that the measure would apply to sticker visas, as well as e-visas and border visas.
The row between the two NATO allies was sparked by the arrest of Metin Topuz, a local U.S. Consulate employee in Istanbul, who was taken into custody on Wednesday over espionage charges and alleged links with the group of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.
The movement led by Gulen, referred to as the Fethullah Terrorist Organization by Turkey, was accused by Ankara of plotting a failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July last year that killed some 250 people.
The U.S. Embassy in Turkey slammed the arrest of Topuz on Thursday, and criticized the way of conducting the arrest of its employee, saying that the allegations on Topuz "are wholly without merit."
The U.S government was "deeply disturbed" by the arrest and "by leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law," the embassy said in a written statement.
The embassy stressed that "baseless, anonymous allegations against our employees undermine and devalue (the) longstanding partnership" between the two countries.
In a statement released Thursday, Turkish Foreign Ministry said the name of the suspect is not among the official list of staff of the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, and he does not have diplomatic immunity.
Turkish state-run Anadolu Agency reported Topuz had connections with former police chiefs and a fugitive prosecutor Zekeriya Oz, who is believed to be a member of the Gulen movement.
Authorities have determined "intense phone conversations" of Topuz with key suspects of last year's coup attempt, Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said in a televised interview on Thursday.
"There is a judicial process ongoing. He will be questioned. The process is conducted within the framework of the evidence," Kalin added.
The relations between Turkey and its traditional ally the United States have gone from uneasy to challenging after the coup attempt last year.
Turkey's demand for Gulen's extradition falls on deaf ears in Washington as the latter asks for more evidence.