ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan blamed the U.S. ambassador to Turkey on Tuesday for a diplomatic crisis between the two countries and said Ankara no longer considered him Washington’s envoy.
In a blunt and personal attack on outgoing ambassador John Bass, Erdogan suggested Bass acted unilaterally in suspending visa services in Turkey after the arrest of a U.S. consulate worker, and said “agents” had infiltrated U.S. missions.
The dispute has plunged already fragile relations between the two NATO allies to a new low after months of tension linked to the conflict in Syria, last year’s failed military coup in Turkey, and U.S. court cases against Turkish officials.
The U.S. embassy said on Sunday night it was suspending visa services while it assessed Turkey’s commitment to the safety of its missions and its staff, a message reiterated in a video released by Bass late on Monday.
“An ambassador in Ankara taking decisions and saying he is doing so in the name of his government is strange,” Erdogan said. “If our ambassador did this, we wouldn’t keep him there even a minute.”
The embassy said allegations that the arrested employee had links to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric blamed by Ankara for orchestrating the failed coup against Erdogan last year, were baseless.
But Erdogan said the arrest, and a police request to question a second consulate employee, showed “there is something cooking in the U.S. consulate in Istanbul… How did these agents infiltrate the U.S. consulate?”
He said Bass, who is due to leave the country within days to take up a posting in Afghanistan, had been making farewell visits to government offices.
“But our ministers, parliament speaker and myself did not accept and will not accept his request because we do not see him as a representative of the United States,” Erdogan told a televised news conference during a visit to Belgrade.
Turkey’s currency and stock market were both hit on Monday by the dispute. On Tuesday, the main BIST 100 stock index rebounded, rising 1.94 percent by 1320 GMT, and the lira was also up 1 percent at 3.6675 to the dollar.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the visa suspension had punished citizens of both countries, and accused Washington of taking an emotional and inappropriate step against an ally.
“You are making your citizens and ours pay the price,” he said. “We call on the United States to be more reasonable. The issue must of course be resolved as soon as possible,” he said, describing U.S. behavior as “unbecoming” of an ally.
In a speech in Ankara to ruling AK Party parliamentarians, Yildirim also defended Turkey’s decision to retaliate with its own visa suspension after the U.S. embassy announcement.
“Turkey is not a tribal state, we will retaliate against what has been done in kind,” he said.
Relations between the countries have been plagued by disputes over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and Turkey’s so far unsuccessful calls for Gulen’s extradition.
U.S. courts have also indicted a Turkish banker and a former minister for conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran, as well as 15 of Erdogan’s security guards for attacking peaceful protesters during his visit to Washington in May.
“Did you ask permission from us when you dragged a general manager from our national bank into jail?” Yildirim said. “Why are you harboring Gulen? Does this fit our alliance or friendship?”
Yildirim said if the United States wanted to continue its alliance with Turkey it should stop support for YPG fighters battling Islamic State in Syria. Turkey says the YPG is an extension of the outlawed PKK which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey.
“Siding with our enemies is not fitting our alliances,” he said.
Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Daren Butler; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Richard Balmforth