(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
ANKARA - President Tayyip Erdogan blamed the US 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 US consulate worker, and said "agents" had infiltrated US 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 US court cases against Turkish officials.
The US 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 US-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 US consulate in Istanbul... How did these agents infiltrate the US 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.