Turkey blames US envoy for souring ties; won't buy US guns

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that the United States is "sacrificing ties" by supporting its ambassador to Turkey in a diplomatic spat that resulted in the two countries suspending the issuing of travel visas to the other's citizens.

"It is the ambassador who created this," Erdogan said in reference to U.S. Ambassador John Bass' decision to halt most visa services for Turks in response to the arrest of a consular employee in Istanbul. "It is unacceptable for America to sacrifice a strategic partner like Turkey for an impertinent ambassador."

The Turkish leader also alleged that Bass and other holdovers in Washington from the Obama administration are damaging the Trump administration's relations with Turkey. Bass' term in Turkey ends this week.

The U.S. this week halted most visa services for Turkish citizens after Turkish authorities arrested Metin Topuz, a Turkish employee at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. Topuz was detained on charges of espionage and alleged ties to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish government blames for a July 2016 coup attempt.

Turkey retaliated by halting visa services in the U.S. for Americans who want to travel to Turkey.

Another consular employee was detained earlier this year and Turkish officials have said they want to question a third. Erdogan alleges the third staff member is hiding inside the Istanbul consulate, a claim Bass has denied.

Bass said Wednesday that the embassy hasn't received evidence supporting Turkey's allegations against Topuz. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also conveyed his profound concern over the detentions of U.S. consular employees to his Turkish counterpart.

Ties between the United States and Turkey have been strained since last year's failed military coup. Gulen, who denies plotting the insurrection, is wanted in Turkey, but U.S. officials are still processing an extradition request.

The Turkish government's crackdown on Gulen's followers in Turkey has led to the arrests of more than 50,000 people for alleged links to terror groups.

Addressing a group of regional governors on Thursday, Erdogan also slammed Washington for providing arms to Kurdish fighters in Syria while blocking the sale of U.S.-made weapons to Turkish security personnel. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters terrorists.

He said Turkey would abandon its plans to supply U.S.-made weapons to its police force.

"We are not a tribal state, we're not dependent on you," Erdogan said.

Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said earlier that Turkey was assessing a U.S. proposal for resolving the visa dispute. Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said Topuz, the arrested consulate employee, would be allowed to see a lawyer on Friday.


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