ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Tuesday his country doesn’t need Washington’s permission to prosecute its citizens, the latest swipe in an escalating feud with the United States over the arrest of a US consulate employee.
In a speech to his ruling party’s legislators in Parliament, Yildirim also slammed Washington for the arrest of a Turkish banker for his alleged role in helping Iran escape US sanctions, and for its failure to extradite US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey says was behind last year’s failed coup.
The U.S. on Sunday suspended most visa services for Turkish citizens after the arrest of Metin Topuz, a Turkish staff member at the US consulate in Istanbul, on charges of espionage and alleged ties to Gulen’s movement, saying it wanted to reassess Turkey’s commitment to the safety of US personnel. Turkey retaliated by halting visas services in the US.
U.S. Ambassador John Bass said in a video message released late Monday that Turkish authorities had failed to show any evidence against Topuz and that he had insufficient access to a lawyer. He also said the arrest “raised questions whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the US.”
Yildirim said: “Turkey is a state of law. Does the fact that he who committed a crime or is accused of a crime is (a member) of an American mission give him any privileges? Does that mean we have to seek the permission of the (US) gentlemen? Do we need their consent?”
“It is very inappropriate behavior to punish the citizens. It’s behavior that doesn’t befit a great country like the United States,” he continued. “We invite the United States to act with more common sense.”
Ties between the two NATO allies were already strained over Gulen’s presence in the United States and Washington’s support for Syrian Kurdish militia, whom Turkey considers to be terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants fighting Turkey. Separate indictments in the U.S. against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards who were embroiled in violence and against the banker and a former Turkish economy minister accused of conspiring to violate US sanctions had deepened the rift.
State-run Anadolu Agency said Topuz had allegedly communicated with former police chiefs in a 2013 corruption probe — which the government claims was instigated by Gulen’s supporters — and with other officers allegedly involved in the attempted coup. Gulen denies involvement in the coup attempt.
Bass said it was part of Topuz’s duty to be in contact with police officers.