Turkey begins diplomatic moves to end U.S. visa embargo


…As Yellow card scarcity leaves passengers stranded at Lagos airport***

Turkey has begun diplomatic moves towards lifting the United States visa suspension, expressing strong hopes that processing of US visa would soon be restored.

The spokesman for the ruling AK Party who indicated this on Wednesday in an  interview with broadcaster “A Haber”, Mahir Unal said that Ankara also hopes the escalating dispute between the NATO allies will not impact military operations.

He highlighted that Turkey was holding talks at the foreign ministry level to resolve the U.S. visa crisis.

President Recep Erdogan of Turkey had on Tuesday said that Ankara refused to further recognise the U.S. ambassador to Ankara, as it toughening his rhetoric amid a worsening row with the U.S.

The visa embargo was sparked by the arrest of a U.S. consulate employee John Bass.

He is the second U.S. member of staff that have been arrested within the year, while a third employee is being sought for questioning and his family members are being held in custody..

Erdogan accused the U.S. of being responsible for the sharp deterioration in relations.

On Sunday, the U.S. stopped offering non-immigrant visa services in Turkey, citing security concerns.

Hours later, Turkish missions in the U.S. took a similar step and also frozen U.S. passport holders out of an electronic visa system.

The Turkish president said that if the suspension of visa services was decided at the top levels in Washington, then Ankara has nothing more to discuss with the U.S.

On Saturday, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a telephone conversation, told the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to discuss bilateral consular affairs.

Erdogan implied “agents” had infiltrated the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, saying: “all this shows us that something is going on in the consulate in Istanbul.”

The president’s words appeared to undercut earlier efforts by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to work towards a resolution.

“I hope that this tension will end soon,” Yildirim told members of the ruling Islamic-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), noting that citizens of both countries were being disadvantaged by the visa freeze.

“We started a legal process against some people who work at the American missions, so what,’’ the prime minister said.

He said that an executive of a Turkish state-run bank was in jail in the U.S.

“That banker is accused of using the U.S. financial system to evade sanctions on Iran, in deals worth billions of dollars,’’ Yildirim said.

He said that he believed that at least “80 per cent” of Turks had an unfavourable view of the U.S.

The premier denounced Washington’s support for a Kurdish militia in Syria, which is leading the fight against the Islamic State extremist group there.

Ankara dubs the Syrian Kurdish militia a terrorist group.

Part of recent U.S. grievances towards Turkey focus on anti-American rhetoric in the media, notably in pro-government circles.

Erdogan appears to be trying to place responsibility for the sharp deterioration in relations on Bass, who will soon take up a post in Afghanistan, after being appointed to Kabul by President Donald Trump.

Bass said he is not aware of any evidence against the employee arrested last week.

He said that the move “has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation” between Washington and Ankara.

“At this time, we can’t predict how long it will take to resolve this matter,” Bass said.

The ambassador said there is concern of additional arrests.

The arrested U.S. employee is accused, according to Yildirim, of having links to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in the U.S.

However, Ankara accuses the cleric, a one-time ally of the AKP, of orchestrating the 2016 failed coup attempt, charges which he denied.

Gulen’s continued residency in the U.S., where he has lived since 1999, remains a source of anger for Turkey.

Some 50,000 people are jailed in Turkey, accused of ties to Gulen, as part of a crackdown since the abortive military putsch.

The head of Turkey’s main opposition party, the People Republican’s Party, Kemal Kilicadaroglu, was critical of the U.S. decision to suspend visa services, saying it penalised all Turks.

In a latest development, U.S. Department of Defence, the Pentagon, said that a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the U.S. has not affected military operations or personnel out of Turkey.

“Turkey was a close NATO ally and the U.S. would continue to coordinate joint and separate military activities with Ankara,’ spokesman for Pentagon Col. Robert Manning said.

In the meantime, several intending passengers were stranded at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the scarcity of the International Certificate for Vaccination also known as yellow card.

The yellow card is issued as evidence of vaccination against yellow fever and is a major requirement at the entry point of many African countries.

It was gathered that the scarcity, which became noticeable on Tuesday, forced many passengers to postpone their trips till Wednesday.

Early on Wednesday, many of the passengers who had met the requirements for the vaccination process but could not be issued the card, were seen in a long queue at the headquarters of the Port Health Services at the airport.

Many of the passengers were said to be travelling to African and South American countries where the presentation of the card was mandatory before entry.

The passengers pleaded with the concerned authorities to come to their aid by ensuring the availability of the cards before the end of the day.

The Federal Executive Council had earlier this year approved the introduction of a new yellow card for Nigeria.

The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said the new yellow card was forgery-proof as it had advanced security features.

According to him, there have been several reports of fake yellow cards being issued.

“One of the challenges we had in the past with the current yellow card is that it could be issued by anybody and those who did not even receive the vaccination could also, in fact, get a card signed for them. With this new card, you cannot fake the yellow card. Using a card reader, we can also document your vaccination status,” he had stated.

The Director, Port Health Services, Alex Okoh, however, explained that the situation had been brought under control.

“Many passengers have been issued with the cards. It is not that we didn’t have yellow cards to issue to them, but we had to follow the procedures for issuance,” he said.

Additional report from Punch