Turkey no longer recognises the U.S. ambassador to Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, toughening his rhetoric amid a worsening row with the U.S., sparked by the arrest of a U.S. consulate employee.
“We do not recognise him as the representative of the U.S. in Turkey, I say this quite openly.
“We did not start this problem,” Erdogan said referring to John Bass during a news conference while on a trip to Serbia.
He accused the U.S. 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 U.S. stopped offering non-immigrant visa services in Turkey, citing security concerns.
Hours later, Turkish missions in the U.S. took a similar step and also frozen U.S. passport holders out of an electronic visa system.
A member of staff of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul was arrested last week.
He is the second U.S. member of staff arrested this year, while a third employee is being sought for questioning and his family members are being held in custody.
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 U.S.
On Saturday, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a telephone conversation, told the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to discuss bilateral consular affairs.
Erdogan implied “agents” had infiltrated the U.S. 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, so what,’’ the prime minister said.
He said that an executive of a Turkish state-run bank was in jail in the U.S.
“That banker is accused of using the U.S. financial system to evade sanctions on Iran, in deals worth billions of dollars,’’ Yildirim said.
He said that he believed that at least “80 per cent” of Turks had an unfavourable view of the U.S.
The premier denounced Washington’s support for a Kurdish militia in Syria, which is leading the fight against the Islamic State extremist group there.
Ankara dubs the Syrian Kurdish militia a terrorist group.
Part of recent U.S. grievances towards Turkey focus on anti-American rhetoric in the media, notably in pro-government circles.
Erdogan appears to be trying to place responsibility for the sharp deterioration in relations on Bass, who will soon take up a post in Afghanistan, after being appointed to Kabul by President Donald Trump.
Bass said he is not aware of any evidence against the employee arrested last week.
He said that the move “has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation” between Washington and Ankara.
“At this time, we can’t predict how long it will take to resolve this matter,” Bass said.
The ambassador said there is concern of additional arrests.
The arrested U.S. employee is accused, according to Yildirim, of having links to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in the U.S.
However,Ankara accuses the cleric, a one-time ally of the AKP, of orchestrating the 2016 failed coup attempt, charges which he denied.
Gulen’s continued residency in the U.S., where he has lived since 1999, remains a source of anger for Turkey.
Some 50,000 people are jailed in Turkey, accused of ties to Gulen, as part of a crackdown since the abortive military putsch.
The head of Turkey’s main opposition party, the People Republican’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicadaroglu, was critical of the U.S. decision to suspend visa services, saying it penalised all Turks.
In a latest development, U.S. Department of Defence the Pentagon, told reporters a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the U.S. has not affected military operations or personnel out of Turkey, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
“I can confirm that these developments have not impacted our operations or personnel.
“The Turkish air force base in Incirlik continues to fulfill an important role supporting NATO and coalition efforts.
“Turkey was a close NATO ally and the U.S. would continue to coordinate joint and separate military activities with Ankara,’ spokesman for Pentagon Col. Robert Manning.