Erdogan questions US partnership amid visa row

Fri 20 October 2017 05:15 GMT | 09:15 Local Time

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday questioned the sincerity of the U.S. strategic partnership with Turkey following a recent visa row between the two countries.

The row was sparked on Oct. 8, when the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of non-immigrant visa services for Turkish nationals, following the arrest of a local employee at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, prompting a tit-for-tat response from Ankara.

Last week, U.S. consulate employee Metin Topuz was arrested over alleged ties to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind last year’s defeated coup attempt in Turkey, Anadolu Agency reports.

FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup which martyred 250 people and wounded nearly 2,200.

Erdogan reiterated that outgoing U.S. Ambassador John Bass was to blame for the visa row.

Speaking at the closing session of the TRT World Forum in Istanbul, the president said: "Who said this? The ambassador in Ankara. Who is this ambassador?

“If he [the ambassador] can just say 'we suspended the visas' in a paragraph on behalf of the great U.S., then I will have to reconsider the strategic partnership."

Erdogan said Gulen controls the FETO structure in 170 countries from his 400,000 square meters of land in Pennsylvania, U.S.

"Of course, this man is symbolic, the main administrators are others ... otherwise he neither has the talent to administrate nor the power," he said.

About the U.S. embassy employee Metin Topuz, Erdogan said Turkey will do whatever is necessary as a democratic state under the rule of law.

The president also criticized the U.S. for supporting the PKK/ PYD terrorists in Syria.

"Who is taking sides with the PYD and YPG against Daesh terrorist organization? America.

Focus on Rohingya plight

"Now is it reasonable to rehabilitate a terrorist organization with another one? I am saying this here clearly because I also said it to [U.S. President] Mr. [Donald] Trump," Erdogan said.

He offered the U.S. to destroy Daesh together.

"Look, we also prepared two brigades for this, I say. Let's do this job together. They say 'we will do it with PYD/YPG'," Erdogan said.

The U.S. has supported a number of militia groups under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces, also known as the SDF, including the PKK/PYD, which is considered by Ankara as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group.

For more than 30 years, the PKK has waged a terror campaign against Turkey, leading to the deaths of more than 40,000 people -- security forces and civilians alike -- including more than 1,200 since July 2015 alone.

Erdogan also referred to the plight of Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

He said Rohinya Muslims were being killed by some Buddhist terrorists and were also being forced to leave their homes.

"We always say this, there are terrorists belonging to every religion," he said.

No one should deceive others by saying Buddhists are doing yoga and are soft people, he added.

"No one is talking about it but you see how nearly 600,000 people [Rohingya] are passing from those rivers," Erdogan stressed.

He added that Turkey offered to bear expenses of all food, medicine and clothing of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Since Aug. 25, approximately 582,000 Rohingya have crossed Myanmar's western state of Rakhine into Bangladesh, according to the UN.

Gulf crisis dissipating

The refugees are fleeing a military operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages. According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.

Turkey has been at the forefront of providing aid to Rohingya refugees and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the issue at the UN.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

About the Gulf crisis between Qatar and other Gulf states, he said the crisis was dissipating and he hoped it would completely disappear soon.

Erdogan said Turkey’s base in Qatar has 250 people.

He added that Saudi Arabia was also offered a Turkish base on its soil.

"I told them 'if you want we can also establish a base in Saudi Arabia'. They said 'we will evaluate it'.

“If a response came, we could have also established a base there. The Gulf, which allows different countries to establish bases there, why does it not allow Turkey to do the same?

“We should get answers to these questions," Erdogan said.

In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain abruptly cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups in the region.

The four states also threatened Qatar with additional sanctions if it failed to meet a long list of demands, including one for the closure of Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera.

Qatar, however, has refused to comply, vociferously denying the accusations against it and describing the Saudi-led embargo as a breach of its national sovereignty.

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