President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said the U.S. was in danger of “sacrificing” its relations with Turkey, as he blamed the American envoy to Ankara for the crisis in relations between the NATO allies.
“It is the ambassador here who caused this,” Erdogan told a meeting in Ankara, referring to the outgoing U.S. envoy in Turkey, John Bass. “It is unacceptable for the United States to sacrifice its strategic partner like Turkey for a presumptuous ambassador,” he said.
The dispute erupted last week when Turkey arrested a Turkish employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on suspicion of links to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim preacher who Ankara blames for last year’s failed coup. In response, Washington halted issuing non-immigrant visas from its missions in Turkey, prompting Ankara to hit back with a tit-for-tat move.
Appearing to have no regrets despite the row, Erdogan said Turkey was “fully behind its decision” on the visa suspensions.
Although Turkish officials blamed the ambassador for the spat, the State Department said Bass had been operating with the full authority of the U.S. government. Bass is due to leave Turkey at the weekend after he was named the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan earlier this year. “If the giant America is ruled by an ambassador in Ankara, what a shame,” Erdogan said.
On Monday, Turkish prosecutors summoned another local employee working at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan on Thursday claimed that he was hiding in the consulate, but Bass had denied this the day before, telling reporters: “No one’s hiding at any of our facilities.”
Turkish authorities this week detained his wife, his son and his daughter.
Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said the man currently in police custody made a request the day before to see his lawyer and would meet with them on Friday. “There had been no request until yesterday [Wednesday],” he said.
Erdogan said the U.S. response to the arrest of the consulate employee was “unfair” and “disproportionate,” and urged for common sense.
Ankara wanted to open a new page in relations with the U.S. under Trump but a spate of issues have raised tensions, including the U.S. refusal to extradite Gulen and American support for Kurdish militias in Syria. Erdogan said that Turkish police forces would no longer use guns made by U.S.-based arms manufacturer Sig Sauer and would “take steps” toward using Turkish-produced weapons instead. “From now on our police department … will not and should not use Sig Sauer weapons,” he said.
Last month, the U.S. government froze arms sales to Erdogan’s bodyguards after Turkish security officials clashed with Kurdish protesters in May following a meeting between Erdogan and President Donald Trump. The move blocks a deal with Sig Sauer for $1.2 million worth of small arms.