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Pres Erdogan maybe the biggest obstacle preventing US from pursuing softened visa policy

Ilhan Tanir, Washington DC


Despite the talks between US diplomatic delegation led by Jonathan Cohen, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and senior Turkish officials not yielding a clear resolution to the visa spat between the USA an Turkey, diplomatic sources in Washington are suggesting that the United States might revise the visa ban. The most significant obstacle to a softer tone seems to be President Erdogan himself who has been giving increasingly aggressive speeches about the standoff.

If the tone softens, some in Washington are suggesting that US State Department could consider easing the visa restrictions by for example, giving certain exemptions for students applying for student visas. Almost everyone agrees that freezing all visa services of a country of 80 million is a very heavy sanction.  But Erdoğan’s rhetoric both keeps the crisis alive and deepens it further.

Not so long ago, US passed the Magnitsky Act, prohibiting the entrance of some Russian officials to the USA responsible for the death of Russian researcher, lawyer and anti-corruption expert Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison. Over time other Russian citizens were added to the list. It remains to be seen if the US government would turn to a version of Magnitsky sanctions on Turkey, targeting AKP officials and allies.

Last week some Turkish news agencies reported that a group of Turkish officials from the Justice Department was denied visas to the USA.

During the first week of September, Congress passed a law suggesting Turkish officials responsible for the detention of American citizens in Turkey, should not be given entrance to the United States, even if they hold a cabinet position. The proposal that was accepted unanimously was part of the State Department’s budget.

US officials believe it it ‘hostage diplomacy.’

On the other hand, American officials have been expressing the feeling at the State Department that Pastor Andrew Brunson and other Consular workers are now held for a ‘hostage bargain’ against them. Even though the senior American officials are avoiding the word “hostage,” they are expressing that Turkish government is using these arrests to ‘squeez’ the US and that they believe that the real goal of these arrests is to get the US to extradite is Reza Zarrab more than Fethullah Gülen. These senior officials are convinced that the arrest of Brunson started with the initiative of a local prosecutor but over time, top political figures got involved.

Turkish side demanding Senior level diplomacy

Besides the ‘working group’ between the United States and Turkey meetings every month, Turkish party is requesting senior-level official visit every three months just like Cohen and Goffus’ visit conducted last week.

Americans refused co-operation for law enforcements

While President Erdogan continues to criticize the US, the Turkish side wanted stronger cooperation between American and Turkish law enforcements. This demand was surprising for the American team. Under normal circumstances, the American side, which is open to such collaboration and has even been demanding such cooperations in the past, though this time they rejected the request for cooperation. While there is no full explanation as to why this offer was rejected, it can be argued that the reason is arrested 2 Turkish staff of the US Consulate whose primary mission to collaborate with Turkish law enforcement and judiciary members.

Russian S-400 systems

Despite AKP officials, and Erdogan claiming that Turkey paid a deposit for the S-400’s, the US State Department officials in Washington are still not sure whether Turkey fully committed to the deal. According to senior officials in the US Department of State, the US side believes that Turkey is using the S400 as leverage to negotiate buying cheaper Patriot systems.

Are there any positive developments between these countries?

There is. Two issues seem to be adding some oxygen to the toxic environment.

The first one is American officials have pledged to put pressure on the PKK’s European financing during Ankara talks. USA will ask the European banks to stop PKK financing. The impression was that the Americans were serious about this commitment this time.

The second positive issue is their positions on the  Kurdish Regional Government referendum are on roughly the same page.

Translated by WHatti


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