U.S.-Turkey Announce Reciprocal Resumption of Visa Services, Then Turkey Throws U.S. Accusation

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Ambassador-Designate Callista Gingrich Assumes Charge at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See

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Senate Confirms Callista Gingrich as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

Posted: 1:53 am ET
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For a short while on Monday, Callista Gingrich was trending on Twitter. It turned out that the U.S. Senate finally voted on her nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. She got the nod in a 70-23 vote. Was there ever any doubt that the U.S. Senate would not confirm the spouse of the former Speaker of the House?

Of course, Twitter blew up when news of her nomination came out, also when she was actually nominated, and when she had her confirmation hearing, and Monday was no different when the Senate finally confirmed her. Given the notoriety of these lovebirds, we suspect that news will follow wherever Ambassador Gingrich and Newt, her husband and former Speaker of the House go. Except now, the Klieg lights will be more intense as she speaks for the United States Government in the Holy See, and as Newt tags along.

Instead of a search result returning “spouse of a U.S. politician”, her Wikipedia page has been updated on the date of her Senate confirmation to indicate that she is the United States Ambassador to the Holy See (Designate), with taking office still marked “TBD.” We can totally understand a woman reinventing herself. She could have asked for any other job in this administration, but she picked a diplomatic post. From now on, she will be known as Ambassador Gingrich, and not just Newt’s third wife. 

Of course, her nomination will be accepted there. Diplomatic courtesy requires that before the United States appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee –in this case, Mrs. Gingrich — is acceptable to the receiving state, the Holy See. The acquiescence of the Vatican is signified by its granting agrément to the appointment. Her nomination would not have been made public had the Vatican did not find her nomination acceptable. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused, but it occasionally happens, as in the case of the French Ambassador nominee who was reportedly rejected because he was gay.

YOU KNOW WHO ELSE IS BACK? The sharp tongued- Princess Sparkle Pony is on Twitter.

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Erdogan Rages Against the U.S. Ambassador to Ankara — What’s That About?

Posted: 2:20 am ET
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Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım recently criticized the suspension of visa services in Turkey by the United States. The Daily Sabah quotes Yıldırım saying“There is rule of law in Turkey and if someone from the U.S. diplomatic mission commits a crime he/she will not have any privileges [to avoid prosecution].” Apparently he also added that U.S. authorities never asked for Turkey’s permission when the United States arrested Halkbank deputy general manager, Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

On Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Ankara John Bass for the visa row, and said: “It is unacceptable for the United States to sacrifice a strategic partner to an ambassador who doesn’t know his place.” He also said that Turkey does not see Ambassador Bass as a representative of the United States.

In the spirit of reciprocity, how long before the State Department declares that the U.S. no longer sees Ambassador Serdar Kılıç as a representative of the Government of Turkey in Washington, D.C.?

RTE must be smart enough to recognize that American ambassadors, particularly career ambassadors like Ambassador Bass do not freelance. And still he rails.

Of related note — on March 19, 2016, Reza Zarrab an Iranian-Turkish citizen was arrested for allegedly engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian entities as part of a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions (Download u.s._v._zarab_et_al_indictment.pdf).

On March 28, 2017, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker was also arrested and charged for alleged conspiracies to violate the IEEPA and to commit bank fraud (Download US v. Mehmet Hakan Atilla complaint.pdf).

On September 6, DOJ announced the Superseding Indictment alleging that nine defendants (including a former Turkish Minister of the Economy (currently serving in Turkish Parliament), and a former General Manager Of Turkish Government-Owned Bank), “conspired to lie to U.S. Government officials about international financial transactions for the Government of Iran and used the U.S. financial system to launder bribes paid to conceal the scheme.”

The scheme functioned largely by using the Turkish government-owned bank (“Turkish Bank-1”) at which ASLAN was the General Manager, ATILLA was the Deputy General Manager of International Banking, and BALKAN was an Assistant Deputy Manager for International Banking, to engage in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. The defendants used Turkish Bank-1 to facilitate REZA ZARRAB’s ability to use his network of companies to supply currency and gold to the Government of Iran, Iranian entities, and SDNs using Turkish Bank-1, while concealing Turkish Bank-1’s role in the violation of U.S. sanctions from regulators.

This is an interesting thriller that we should hear more about starting next month when the hearing starts in New York.  This story started like a movie; according to the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins piece — with a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, which was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog, and three thousand pounds of gold bars.

Here is the superseding indictment in USA vs. Zarrab, et.al.

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U.S. Mission Turkey Representatives, Lawyer Not Allowed to See Jailed Turkish Employee

Posted: 4:15 am ET
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We recently blogged about the arrest of U.S. Mission Turkey’s local employee in Istanbul (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Note that there are no cancellation of visas, and this is not a visa ban, but this is clearly, a specific action taken by the U.S. Government over the Turkish Government’s treatment of U.S. Mission employees in Turkey.

The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass released a fuller statement on the suspension of visa services (see below). Ambassador Bass notes that this is the second arrest of a Turkish staff member of U.S. Mission Turkey. Both employees arrested have worked for the U.S. Government at U.S. Mission Turkey for over 30 years.

Last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities.  Despite our best efforts to learn the reasons for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee.  The employee works in an office devoted to strengthening law enforcement cooperation with Turkish authorities and ensuring the security of Americans and Turkish citizens.  Furthermore our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.

Ambassador Bass also points out that the local employee was doing his job for the diplomatic post:

Let me be clear: strengthening law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Turkey was the employee’s job.  Speaking to and traveling with Turkish police was a part of his regular duties and the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity.  

We understand that the U.S. Government has provided attorneys for the jailed employee in Adana, as well as the jailed employee in Istanbul but access has been problematic. A source speaking on background confirmed to us that the U.S. Government has asked for the release of these employees and that the Government of Turkey’s response has been “we’ll look into it.”  The U.S. Government has also requested to see Metin Bey in Istanbul but was not allowed to see him.

Under Turkey’s “state of emergency”, U.S. Mission employees do not have proper access to counsel and they aren’t informed of charges or evidence against them. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan first announced that Turkey will be placed under a “state of emergency” for three months, in response to the failed coup in mid 2016. Al Jazeera notes that Turkey’s last “state of emergency” was imposed in the country’s southeast region for the fight against Kurdish armed groups in 1987 and only lifted in 2002. It also points out that “under a state of emergency in Turkey, the president can largely rule by decree.”  On October 6, the Council of Europe has called on Turkey to ease post-coup state of emergency laws that have seen thousands arrested and to restore power to regional authorities.

Turkey Seeking a Third Employee?

In related news, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported on Monday that an “unnamed U.S. Consulate employee has been summoned to testify as a suspect” citing the Chief Prosecutor’s Office” in Istanbul: “An employee at the U.S. Consulate Istanbul, N.M.C., who does not have diplomatic immunity, has been summoned to our chief public prosecutor’s office [in Istanbul] for his testimony.” According to the report, the statement released also says that the employee’s “child and wife have been detained on terror charges in Amasya, a city in the Black Sea region.” Elsewhere, local media reports also say that this unnamed employee has not left the Consulate.

Despite wide reporting concerning this third employee, the Government of Turkey has apparently told the U.S. Government that there is no warrant (yet) for the third employee. A source familiar with the matter told us that it is not true that the employee has not left the Consulate or that he is staying at the Consulate.

But let that sink in. They’re holding the employee’s wife and child on terror charges. What’s to keep the Turkish Government from holding as hostages the family members of any or all local employees in Turkey, so those employees would voluntarily surrender without charges, without lawyers, just to keep their families safe?

Dual Turk-American Citizens

There are also multiple Americans jailed in Turkey after the failed coup attempt (see Americans Jailed After Failed Coup in Turkey Are Hostages to Politics): We understand that American Consular Officers have been given access to Americans in jail but not if the individuals are dual nationals. Apparently, the Government of Turkey has told the U.S. Government that if the jailed individuals are dual Turk-Americans, that the United States has no right to see them.

Okay — So Why the Why?

Folks are not sure if Turkey is playing hardball because of Fethullah Gulen (based in the U.S.), accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt,  or because of Reza Zharab, an Iranian-Turkish citizen arrested for conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and bank fraud, a case that allegedly implicates certain officials including a former Turkish Minister of  the Economy, and a former general manager of a Turkish Government-owned bank. It’s worth noting that the Zharab case has expanded to include nine defendants, and is scheduled to begin trial on October 30 before Judge Berman in the Southern District of New York. The prosecution of the Zharab/Zarrab case is being handled by the Southern District of New York’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Yo! And that Consulate employee Turkey arrested in Istanbul works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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U.S. Mission Turkey Suspends All Non-Immigrant Visa Services Over Latest Arrest of Local Employee

Posted: 2:01 am ET
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On October 8, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of all temporary visa services for the embassy and consulates in Turkey. The statement says that “recent events have forced the United States Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of U.S. Mission facilities and personnel.” This development follows the arrest of U.S. Consulate General’s Metin Topuz, a locally hired employee in Istanbul this past week (see Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”). There was also the prior arrest of the U.S. Consulate Adana local employee Hamza Uluçay, arrested in March on charges of “being a member of a terror organization” and who remains in jail to this day.

Hamza Uluçay has worked for the U.S. Consulate in Adana for 36 years, and according to Hurriyet Daily News was arrested as he left the consulate building for “allegedly attempting to direct the public to provocative activities in the southeastern province of Mardin.” Back in March, Hamsa Bey was reportedly referred to a local court in Mardin’s Kızıltepe district but he was later released on probation. The prosecutor objected to the release and he was detained for the second time on charges of “being a member of a terror organization.”  According to Hurriyet, the searches at Hamsa Bey’s residence includes seizure of $21 U.S. dollars with B, C, D, F, G, K and L series on them.

An AP report in April 2016 previously notes that Turkish  authorities are citing U.S. banknotes, specifically $1 bills as evidence that people are followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag reportedly told the A Haber television channel, “There is no doubt that this $1 bill has some important function within the Gulenist terror organization.” The AP report citing the Aksam daily, says that one theory is that F designates a high-ranking soldier or police chief; J and C represent low-ranking soldiers; E and S are for instructors and academics in Gulenist schools and B is for students.

In July,  Henri J. Barket wrote about Hamsa Bey in The Atlantic’s Erdogan’s Anti-Westernism Picks Up Speed:

One particularly absurd case is that of Hamza Uluçay, a 37-year employee of the U.S. consulate in Adana, who was picked up on “terrorism” charges. He is a foreign service national, a local hire who helps U.S. diplomats arrange meetings and navigate the local political and social scene. I have known Hamza for 25 years—I first met him in the 1990s in Adana during a research trip. When I saw him last in March 2016, I joked with him that he ought to never retire because Consulate Adana, notwithstanding his American colleagues, could not function without him. These audacious charges amount to nothing less than sticking a thumb in America’s eye.

Local employees including those in small posts like Adana provide not only bridges with local host country nationals and officials, they also provide continuity for posts so our diplomats are able to do their jobs. The U.S. Consulate in Adana covers a consular district that encompasses 22 provinces, including Turkey’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. Its district includes the major cities of Mersin, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, and Van that have large Kurdish population. One diplomat told us that “Hamza Bey in Adana is one of our finest.” Local employees do not freelance, or go rogue; the calls and contacts they make in their own countries are connected to their jobs, and are done on behalf of their American supervisors, and consequently, on behalf of the United States. Unlike American diplomats who have diplomatic and consular immunity (PDF), local employees do not have such privileges and immunities.

The second, and latest local employee arrested by Turkish authorities is Metin Topuz “on charges of espionage and links to FETÖ, the group blamed for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 249 people in Turkey.” According to the Daily Sabah, a Turkish pro-government daily, the indictment for Metin Bey includes “contact with a number of police chiefs in Istanbul where he worked” and all those police chiefs involved in the 2013 coup attempts were FETÖ members in the judiciary and law enforcement.” The indictment reportedly also charged that he is a liaison between members of FETÖ and its leader, Fetullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.”

The Daily Sabah previously reported this arrest as “US consulate linked to another alleged FETÖ conspiracy.” The newspaper citing a report by the Akşam newspaper says that “M.T. assisted FETÖ-linked police chiefs in handing over documents regarding the 2013 police operations to Preet Bharara, a former New York attorney who conducted an investigation into Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish national who is being held in the U.S. three years after being included in a 2013 probe involving people close to the government in Turkey.”

We understand that Metin Bey works for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Istanbul. Contacts with members of the local judiciary or law enforcement would certainly be part of his job, a fact lost on the Government of Turkey.  Turkey watchers notice that government-affiliated press is ramping things up. U.S. Mission Turkey’s October 5 made reference to leaks, and an attempt to try Metin Bey in the media rather than in the court of law.

It is probably not an accident that the local employees arrested are long-term employees of the U.S. Mission in Turkey. The question is if this is now open season for all Turkish nationals working for the United States in Turkey. If the Turkish Government can go after employees at the U.S. consulates, how long before they’re going to go after the Turkish nationals working for the U.S. Military in Turkey?

According to turkeypurge.com which monitors President Erdogan’s purges since July 15, 2016, our NATO-ally Turkey has now arrested over 60,000 individuals, detained over 127,000 people, arrested over 300 journalists, shut down 187 media outlets, and sacked over 146,000 state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, and academics who were dismissed by government decrees.

And now this — Turkey’s MFA copy/pasted the official USG statement, and has now issued a reciprocal suspension of visa services at all Turkish diplomatic facilities in the United States. It addition to its embassy, Turkey has seven consulates in the U.S.: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco.

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US Ambassador to Russia @JonHuntsman Presents His Credentials in Moscow

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U.S. Mission Russia: Ambassador and Mrs @JonHuntsman Now in Moscow

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Ambassador John F. Tefft Pens Op-Ed as He Departs Russia, to Retire After 45 Years of Service

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Ambassador John F. Tefft, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia left post on September 28. He is also retiring from the U.S. Foreign Service for the second time after 45 years of public service. He pens the following op-ed for The Moscow Times:

On the Day of My Departure

We need to rebuild trust between our two countries.

When I first joined the diplomatic service, working on the Soviet desk in the 1980s, our relationship with Russia was at a low point. The Soviet Union had just shot down a Korean Airliner, with almost 100 Americans including a Congressman on board. There was a lot of anger in America.

Today, as I prepare to leave Russia, our relationship has reached another low point. Americans are concerned and angry about Russian interference in our elections and by the Russian authorities’ refusal to accept their responsibility for it.

As Secretary Tillerson said, we need to rebuild trust between our two countries and move our relationship to a different place. The American people want the two most powerful nuclear nations in the world to have a better relationship. From the earliest days of this Administration we have said time and again that we would prefer a constructive relationship with Russia based on cooperation on common interests. We remain prepared to try to find a way forward.

Serving the American community is at the heart of the work of the U.S. Mission in Russia, and it will continue to be a main priority moving forward. The U.S. Embassy and our Consulates General throughout Russia first and foremost are here to provide services to the Americans living, working, and traveling in Russia. During my time here, I have seen what Americans can do in Russia to bring our countries together on a people-to-people, business-to-business, scholar-to-scholar, performer-to-performer level. This gives me hope, even during these difficult times.

With the help of our Foreign Commercial Service and Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. and Russian businesses receive assistance developing and expanding new relationships and introducing innovative technologies. This increases trade and investment and strengthens ties between our two countries. I have seen how cattle ranchers from the United States and Russia work together to produce high quality beef for the Russian market and how American-trained managers bring productivity and streamlined processing into Russian businesses to help make them more profitable and more successful.

I am particularly proud of the positive influence U.S. companies have had on the Russian business culture. When I contrast the present business culture with what I witnessed here in the 1990s, I notice tremendous progress in the areas of transparency, business ethics, and corporate social responsibility.

U.S. companies have led by example on corporate social responsibility. One major soft drinks manufacturer has partnered with governmental and non-governmental organizations to preserve and protect important watersheds; an oil and gas corporation has provided over $250 million to support infrastructure and community projects in Sakhalin and Khabarovsk Krai; and a paper and pulp producer supports social programs in Svetogorsk. These are just a few of the many examples of the benefits of the presence of U.S. companies here in Russia. I have also been very impressed with Russia’s talented business leaders, including women, many of whom rose from entry-level positions at U.S. companies to the highest ranks of leadership.

As I look back over my time here in Russia, I am struck by the richness of Russian culture and history. I will look back fondly on my travels to places like Tikhvin, where I had the pleasure of visiting Rimsky-Korsakov’s childhood home and seeing the piano on which so many amazing and talented Russian composers played and composed their works. I will particularly remember my annual visits to events such as the pop-culture and entertainment conference Comic-Con, my travels throughout the country to visit American businesses and partnerships, and all of the opportunities I have to meet with many creative, intelligent young Russians who are inspired by the possibilities of what we can do when we work together.

We will continue to stand up for our interests while looking for avenues of dialogue. We remain dedicated to finding ways to bring together Russians and Americans both to discuss our differences and to discover the many things we have in common. Having seen how we weathered the storm in the 1980s and the dedication of our staff of talented professionals in the State Department back home and here in Mission Russia, I remain optimistic that our governments will ultimately find a way forward. On our side, we’re certainly ready.

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Ambassador Tefft served as the United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation since September 2014. He previously served as Ambassador to Lithuania from 2000 to 2003, to Georgia from 2005 to 2009, and to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013. He worked from 2004 to 2005 as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs responsible for U.S. relations with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

Ambassador Tefft retired from the Foreign Service in September 2013 and served as Executive Director of the RAND Corporation’s Business Leaders Forum from October 2013 to August 2014 until his recall to duty and confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation.  From 2003 to 2004 Tefft was the International Affairs Advisor at the National War College in Washington, D.C. He was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1996 to 1999, and was Chargé d’Affaires from November 1996 to September 1997. His other Foreign Service assignments include Jerusalem, Budapest, and Rome.

He received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award in 1992, the DCM of the Year Award for his service in Moscow in 1999 and the Diplomacy for Human Rights Award in 2013. He also received Presidential Meritorious Service Awards in 2001 and 2005.

Senate Confirms Mitchell (EUR), Siberell (Bahrain), Bass (Afghanistan), Huntsman (Russia)

Posted: 12:40 am ET
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On September 28, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination for the new Assistant Secretary for State for EUR, and the nominees as chiefs of mission to Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Russia.

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