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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

US and Turkey put an end to visa spat

However relations between the two nations remain tense

The United States Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Tumay Berkin/ EPA
The United States Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Tumay Berkin/ EPA

The United States and Turkey on Thursday turned the page on a visa crisis triggered nearly three months ago by the arrest of a staff member at the American mission in Ankara, but relations between the NATO allies remain tense.

The two sides announced the resumption of full visa services for each other's citizens, but their statements revealed lingering misgivings between the countries, who are partners in the fight against ISIS.

Washington said it had won assurances from Ankara that no further legal proceedings would be launched against its staff, though the Turkish embassy in the US capital insisted "no such assurances have been given."

Nevertheless, the State Department said it was "confident that the security posture has improved sufficiently to allow for the full resumption of visa services in Turkey."

The US move is effective immediately, a department official told AFP.

Shortly thereafter, the Turkish mission in Washington said: "Within the framework of the principle of reciprocity, the restrictions placed from our side on the visa regime for US citizens are being lifted simultaneously."

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The US decision to stop handing out visas was implemented from October 8 and was followed by a tit-for-tat move by Turkey to stop giving visas to Americans.

The crisis was triggered when US consulate staffer Metin Topuz was formally charged with espionage and seeking to overthrow the Turkish government -- accusations the US embassy in Ankara has said are "wholly without merit."

Topuz, a Turkish citizen, is accused of links to a group led by Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara suspects of ordering last year's failed coup in Turkey.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999, denies any involvement in the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In November, the US said it had resumed limited visa services, a move matched by Turkey's missions in the US.

But the services were so limited that the first interview appointments for Turks seeking most types of US visas were only available from January 2019, causing uproar on social media.

Washington says it is now confident that there are "no additional local employees of our mission in Turkey under investigation" and that "local staff of our embassy and consulates will not be detained or arrested for performing their official duties," a State Department official said.

Turkish authorities will also inform the US "in advance" if they intend to arrest any local staff member in the future.

But US authorities added: "We continue to have serious concerns about the existing allegations against arrested local employees of our mission in Turkey."

Reflecting the language of the American statement, Ankara said it continued to have "serious concerns" regarding cases involving Turkish citizens in the United States.