(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) By Aaron Kassraie WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (KUNA) -- Following the Obama administration's backing of the Syrian Kurdish PYD in 2014, the US and Turkey have faced years of "mistrust" and growing "divergent interests" resulting in the "unprecedented" strain depicted last week when both countries mutually suspended their visa programs.
Earlier this week, the US stopped visa issuing services after a Turkish staffer at the American mission in Istanbul was arrested. Turkey responded by also suspending "all visa services" for Americans in the US.
"This is an unprecedented move given Turkey is a NATO country," Gonul Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute's Center for Turkish Studies, told KUNA. "The relationship between Turkey and the US faced several challenges over the years. This is a very serious step taken by the US administration." Turkey first felt betrayed by the US when it airdropped weapons to the Syrian Kurdish PYD, a group Ankara believes is linked to the terrorist PKK. Additionally, Turkey has criticized the US for harboring its most wanted fugitive, Fethullah Gulen, who allegedly plotted a coup against the Turkish government last year.
For the US, over a dozen Americans have been jailed in Turkey on charges of terrorism or links to other movements. This includes two local members of US consular staff that outgoing US Ambassador to Turkey; John Bass, said was a "revenge-motivated action of some in the Turkish government." The US has also issued several indictments for members of President Recep Tayyp Erdogan's security detail for attacks against peaceful protesters during a visit to Washington last year.
During a meeting with Erdogan, US Vice President Mike Pence brought up the detainment of Andrew Brunson, an American missionary who had lived in Turkey for 20 years. Erdogan has called for the US to extradite Gulen in return for Brunson.
"There have been divergent interests and values, this (the US consulate employee's arrest) is the last straw," said Tol.
She said that if the US media starts to cover the issue widely, "it becomes difficult for the US administration and Turkey to back down. This provides leverage for the US over the Turkish government. I don't think they will reverse the decision (visa suspension) without significant steps from the Turkish government." With regard to the implications this may bring to NATO, Tol believes that the incident "only deepens the tension between the two countries and the mistrust that has always been there." Recently, the Pentagon released a statement saying that the visa suspension won't affect joint operations, Tol cited. "This adds another layer to the strained tensions... even the Pentagon has promoted good relations with NATO's largest army." With regard to the crisis in Syria, Tol said that it "puts Turkey more firmly under the Russian umbrella; pursuing more independent policy." It strengthens Iran's position and undermines the US strategy, "but that has already been the case for some time." An improved posture between Ankara and Washington is looking grim for the immediate future as it is "very difficult for Erdogan, he escalated the crisis. If Turkey normalizes relations over the American missionary who is jailed in Turkey without getting anything in return, that will damage Erdogan domestically," said Tol.
The US says it still has not received official communication from Ankara as to why its staff member was arrested. Despite that the US Ambassador has been blamed by Erdogan for the dispute, Bass said that he would not disrupt the relationship with Turkey and would continue to work on the issue. (end) ak.hb