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

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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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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Turkey Arrests U.S.Consulate General Istanbul Local Employee Metin Topuz on “Terror Charges”

Posted: 5:10 am ET
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Nomination: Amb. John R. Bass to be U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan

Posted: 1:26 am ET
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On July 20, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Ambassador John Bass to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. The Wh released the following brief bio:

John R. Bass of New York to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.  Mr. Bass, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1988.  He is currently Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, a position he has held since 2014.  He also served as Ambassador to the Republic of Georgia from 2009 to 2012.  Mr. Bass has spent much of the past decade supporting Federal Government efforts to mobilize allies and marshal resources to combat terrorism and instability in Iraq, Syria, and Southwest Asia.  He has served at six U.S. Missions overseas and in senior leadership positions at the Department of State.  Mr. Bass earned an A.B., cum laude, from Syracuse University.

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Turkish Security Personnel Beats Up Protesters in Washington, D.C. — Just Like Back in Turkey

Posted: 1:13 am ET
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In March 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Washington to attend the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit. His security detail made news for its actions toward protesters and journalists covering the visit (see Turkish President Erdoğan Visits DC, His Guards Make News, and Oh, the Turkish Army Says No Coup).

On May 16, President Trump hosted President Erdoğan at the @WhiteHouse where the Turkish president congratulated POTUS for his “legendary triumph.”  Later when protesters demonstrated in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., they were beaten by Turkish security personnel. Just like back in Turkey where peaceful protesters are routinely attacked, even jailed. The attack was captured on videos and beamed around the world.  This time though, President Erdogan appeared to watched from inside his car while the brutal attack unfolded on the street of his host country’s capital city. The State Department and the DC Mayor’s office released statements on the attack against peaceful demonstrators. The White House offers no statement concerning the attack.

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Tillerson Visits Turkey, Gets Complaints Here, and There

Posted: 12:48 am ET
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Below is the transcript of Secretary Tillerson’s ‘meet and greet’ remarks at US Mission Turkey, his first one since his appointment as secretary of state. No photos of the embassy ‘meet and greet’ available so far.

Thank you, thank you. And it is, indeed, a pleasure to be in Ankara and to have the opportunity to visit the embassy here and get a chance to speak to all of you. And what a great way to be greeted, with a great-looking bunch of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and I’m well familiar with both of those organizations and a lifelong scouter myself, and I want to express my appreciation to the adult leadership that it takes to make those opportunities available to these young people. And to the parents that support them as they move down that advancement pathway to earn their way to higher achievement, I’d like to thank all of you as well.

This – and I don’t have to tell you how important this particular mission is to us in terms of its strategic value, its place in the region, but certainly the complexities of what we’re dealing with as a nation and as a world with what’s happening just on the borders here to the south of Turkey. I know it’s a high-stress posting, I know it’s been a difficult couple of years for everyone in terms of status changes in this mission, as well as the other three locations. And so we appreciate your dedication and your commitment throughout all of that, staying the course, keeping up and out in front of you what you know is important, and what’s very important to our nation back home. So I thank all of you for your commitment throughout that period of time.

I also want to talk about three values that I’ve been trying to talk everywhere I go within the State Department. I expressed these on day one when I made my first-day appearance at the Department, and that’s that I have three key values that I think will be useful to all of us as we go about our daily work in terms of how we interact with each other and in terms of how we interact externally as well.

And the first of those is accountability, that I think it’s really important with the work we do, because it is so vital and important that as we produce that work, we’re holding ourselves accountable to the results, and that’s the only way we can hold our partners accountable. We intend to hold other nations accountable in our alliances for commitments they’ve made, but that starts with us holding ourselves accountable, first as individuals, then collectively as an organization. So we ask that everyone really devote themselves to that, recognize that we’re not going to be right all the time. We may make some mistakes and that’s okay. We hold ourselves accountable to those and we’ll learn from those and we’ll move forward, but that it’s important that we always own what we do – that it’s ours and we’re proud to own it.

The second value I’m talking a lot about is honesty. That starts with being honest with each other, first in terms of our concerns, in terms of our differences, and we invite and want to hear about those. That’s how we come to a better decision in all that we do. And only if we do that can we then be honest with all of our partners and allies around the world as well. And still, I mean, we’re going to have our differences, but we’re going to be very honest and open about those, so at least we understand them.

And then lastly is just treating everyone with respect. I know each of us wants to be treated with respect. You earn that by treating others with respect. And again, regardless of someone’s stature in the organization or regardless of what their work assignment may be, or regardless of how they may want to express their view, at all times we’re going to treat each other with respect. And in doing that, you’ll earn the respect of others. So we ask that everyone devote themselves to accountability, honesty, and respect.

And starting with the scout promises and laws, that’s not a bad place either. If you haven’t looked at those, you ought to take a look at them. They’re a pretty good playbook for life, I can tell you that. They’ve been a great playbook in my life throughout all of my professional career prior to coming to this position, and they continue to guide me every day in terms of how I want to hold myself accountable is against those principles.

So again, I appreciate what all of you are doing on behalf of the State Department, in particular what you’re doing on behalf of our country, both those of you that are here on posting as well as those of you who are part of our national workforce as well. So I thank all of you for your dedication and commitment. I appreciate you coming out today. It is a rather nice, beautiful day, so I knew I’d come out too. (Laughter.) But again, thank you all for what you’re doing. It’s just a real delight to see you. Thank you. (Applause.)

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@StateDept Lifts Evacuation Order For Istanbul, Travel Restrictions Remain For SE Turkey

Posted: 2:55 am ET
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In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul (see U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?). On March 28, 2017, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning concerning the increased threats from terrorist groups in the country.  The updated warning also states that the evacuation order for USCG Istanbul family members issued in October had been lifted. That means family members on evacuation status may now return to join the FS employees assigned to Istanbul although there are now restrictions on personal and official travel by USG employees and family members traveling and residing in Istanbul.

Below is an excerpt from the updated Travel Warning:

U.S. citizens are warned of increased threats from terrorist groups in Turkey. Carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey due to the persistent threat of terrorism. On March 27, the Department of State terminated its October 29, 2016, decision to direct family members of employees posted to the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul to depart Turkey temporarily. However, there are restrictions on personal and official travel by U.S. government personnel and their family members travelling to and residing in Istanbul. Restrictions on travel by U.S. government personnel to certain areas in southeast Turkey, including Adana, remain. This replaces the travel warning dated January 25, 2017.

In 2016, numerous terrorist attacks involving shootings, suicide bombings, and vehicle-borne bombings in tourist areas, public spaces, private celebrations, sporting events, and government, police, and military facilities throughout Turkey resulted in hundreds of deaths. The most recent attacks include a mass shooting at the Istanbul Reina nightclub on January 1, 2017, and simultaneous suicide bombings near Istanbul’s Besiktas/Vodafone Soccer Stadium on December 10, 2016. In addition, an increase in anti-American rhetoric has the potential to inspire independent actors to carry out acts of violence against U.S. citizens.

Additional attacks in Turkey could occur at major events, tourist sites, restaurants, nightclubs, commercial centers, places of worship, and transportation hubs, including aviation services, metros, buses, bridges, bus terminals, and sea transport. Foreign and U.S. tourists and expatriates have been explicitly targeted by terrorist organizations in Turkey for kidnapping and assassination. We remind U.S. citizens to review their personal security plans including communications preparedness/connectivity, monitor local news for breaking events, remain vigilant at all times, and check in with loved ones after an attack or security incident.

On January 4, the Turkish government extended the state of emergency through April 18, 2017.  The Turkish government will decide in April whether to extend the state of emergency for another 90 days.  Under the state of emergency, security forces have expanded powers and the government has, at times, restricted internet access and media content.  U.S. citizens have been deported and/or detained and held without access to lawyers or family members under the state of emergency.  Delays or denial of consular access to U.S. citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, have become more common.  U.S. citizen employees of some non-governmental organizations in Turkey have also recently experienced increased scrutiny and denials related to residence permit applications.  The Department continues to monitor the security environment for potential impact on the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens in Turkey and urges U.S. citizens to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) on www.travel.state.gov to stay informed.

U.S. government personnel and their family members residing in or visiting Istanbul are restricted from congregating or traveling in large groups and are not permitted to visit these Istanbul locations without prior approval from the Consulate:

  • Large, crowded areas such as shopping malls and houses of worship frequented by expatriates, entertainment complexes, nightclubs, public sporting/cultural performance venues, and crowded pedestrian thoroughfares
  • Tourist destinations throughout Istanbul, to include historical sites, monuments, large bazaar markets, and museums.

U.S. government personnel living in or visiting Turkey continue to require approval from the U.S. Embassy  to visit the  southeastern provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig.  Travel within Adana by U.S. government personnel may also be subject to restriction.  Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy may prohibit movements by its personnel and those of its subordinate Consulates to these areas on short notice for security reasons.  Due to recent acts of violence and the potential for reprisal attacks by terrorist groups due to continued Turkish military activity in Syria, we urge U.S. citizens to defer travel to large urban centers near the Turkish/Syrian border.  U.S. citizens should also be aware that the Government of Turkey has closed its border with Syria.  The Government of Turkey prohibits border crossings from Syria into Turkey, even if the traveler entered Syria from Turkey.  Turkish authorities will consider permitting the passage of individuals seeking emergency medical treatment or safety from immediate danger on a case by case basis.

Read the entire Turkey Travel Warning here.

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Dear SecState Tillerson: Congrats on 737 Cost Savings, But Don’t Ditch Your Press Corps on #Turkey Trip

Posted: 3:01 am ET
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On March 23, the State Department reiterated during the Daily Press Briefing Secretary Tillerson’s excuse for ditching his traveling press:

[H]e was clear and he’s spoken about this in his interviews – is that he is committed to a smaller footprint. That’s not to say – let me be clear – that we’re not going to look at taking any press in future trips. I’m not saying that at all. But he is committed to a smaller footprint. And with respect to the trip to Asia, the space constraints on the plane did not allow, frankly, for a press contingent. So we worked with — [snip] So we work with our embassies. I think it is. And I can get into this. I don’t – we don’t need to have this out here, but I’m happily – happy to talk to you about this offline. But there’s a significant cost savings to taking the smaller plane, but that smaller plane requires – or has minimal seating.

Secretary Tillerson cited “cost savings” in using a smaller aircraft ( a 737), which apparently also “flies faster”; presumably in comparison to the 757 previously used by his predecessors?

We don’t know much about airplanes, so you know we’ve got to take a look, right?

Here is the current secstate’s 737 | C-40 B/C via af.mil:

The C-40 B/C is based upon the commercial Boeing 737-700 Business Jet. The body of the C-40 is identical to that of the Boeing 737-700, but has winglets. Both models have state of the art avionics equipment, integrated GPS and flight management system/electronic flight instrument system and a heads up display. Heading the safety equipment list is the traffic collision avoidance system and enhanced weather radar. The aircraft is a variant of the Boeing next generation 737-700, and combines the 737-700 fuselage with the wings and landing gear from the larger and heavier 737-800. The basic aircraft has auxiliary fuel tanks, a specialized interior with self-sustainment features and managed passenger communications. The cabin area is equipped with a crew rest area, distinguished visitor compartment with sleep accommodations, two galleys and business class seating with worktables.

The C-40B is designed to be an “office in the sky” for senior military and government leaders. Communications are paramount aboard the C-40B which provides broadband data/video transmit and receive capability as well as clear and secure voice and data communication. It gives combatant commanders the ability to conduct business anywhere around the world using on-board Internet and local area network connections, improved telephones, satellites, television monitors, and facsimile and copy machines. The C-40B also has a computer-based passenger data system.  The C-40C is not equipped with the advanced communications capability of the C-40B. Unique to the C-40C is the capability to change its configuration to accommodate from 42 to 111 passengers.

The C-40 B/C is based upon the commercial Boeing 737-700 Business Jet. The C-40 B/C provides safe, comfortable and reliable transportation for U.S. leaders to locations around the world. The C-40B’s primary customers are the combatant commanders and C-40C customers include members of the Cabinet and Congress.  (Courtesy photo)

Previously, the secretary of state’s airplane was a C-32, a specially configured version of the Boeing 757-200 commercial intercontinental airliner.  This is the aircraft used by Secretary Kerry.  757 | C-32  via af.mil:

The C-32 provides safe, comfortable and reliable transportation for our nation’s leaders to locations around the world. The primary customers are the vice president, using the distinctive call sign “Air Force Two,” the first lady, and members of the Cabinet and Congress. The C-32 body is identical to that of the Boeing 757-200, but has different interior furnishings and 21st century avionics. The passenger cabin is divided into four sections: A) The forward area has a communications center, galley, lavatory and 10 business class seats; B) The second section is a fully-enclosed stateroom for the use of the primary passenger. It includes a changing area, private lavatory, separate entertainment system, two first-class swivel seats and a convertible divan that seats three and folds out to a bed. C) The third section contains the conference and staff facility with eight business class seats. D) The rear section of the cabin contains general seating with 32 business-class seats, galley, two lavatories and closets.

The USAF C-32 fact sheet also says that this aircraft is more fuel efficient and has improved capabilities over its C-137 predecessor. “It can travel twice the distance on the same amount of fuel, and operate on shorter runways down to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) in length. Its 92,000-pound (41,731 kilogram) fuel capacity allows the aircraft to travel 5,500 nautical miles unrefueled.”

Here is the side-by-side comparison of the two planes, the 757 that former Secretary Kerry used and the 737 that Secretary Tillerson is currently using.

Cost savings? Yes, but …

There are fixed costs associated with operating an aircraft that do not vary according to aircraft usage (crew, maintenance, labor, parts, operations overhead, administrative overhead, etc) so we requested from the State Department the cost savings identified with the Tillerson trip to Asia. Its official response was to direct us to the DOD comptroller for the travel per hour cost. According to the DOD Comptroller’s FY2017 hourly rates for fixed wing aircraft effective October 1, 2016 (used when the applicable aircraft are provided on a reimbursable basis), Secretary Tillerson’s 737/C-40C aircraft costs about a third of the previous secretary’s 757 cost per hour.

But, because there’s always a but …the 737/C-40C model used by members of the Cabinet and Congress can change its configuration to accommodate from 42 to 111 passengers. Let’s just say that Secretary Tillerson is using the 737/C-40B model primary used by combatant commanders; this model still has seats for 26-32 passengers.

Secretary Tillerson traveling party to Asia was small, so he basically flew with a half empty plane but the State Department officially cited “space constraints” as the reason for not having a traveling press.  In any case, if Secretary Tillerson is saving money by using a smaller but mostly empty plane, he surely can save more money by using a smaller plane with paying passengers (press pay for their rides in USG planes) instead of empty seats, won’t he?  He does not have to take the whole village, but he has to take more than one, and they ought not be preselected for obvious reasons.

To Turkey, to Turkey

On Friday, the State Department announced that Secretary Tillerson will travel to Ankara, Turkey, on March 30, to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior Turkish government officials, then travel to Brussels, Belgium on March 31 to visit NATO.

The Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, rates Turkey’s press freedom status as “not free.” Its report on Turkey states: “Media outlets are sometimes denied access to events and information for political reasons. Critical outlets are regularly denied access to the AKP’s party congress and meetings, and the government prevents certain journalists from attending press conferences or accompanying officials on foreign visits.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes that Turkey jails more journalists than any other country in 2016 and closes some 178 news outlets and publishing houses by decree in the space of five months.

This is one trip where the Secretary of State absolutely cannot afford to ditch his traveling press.

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U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?

Posted: 1:49 am ET
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In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul. The announcement says that the Department of State made this decision “based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent” but adds that “the Consulate General remains open and fully staffed.”

The mandatory evacuation order issued in October meant that family members departed Turkey for temporary housing typically in the Washington, D.C. area without their household effects or personal vehicles. And like all posts on mandatory evacuation, the children had to be pulled out from their schools and temporarily enrolled in local schools in the DC area. We are not sure how many family members were evacuated from post but the last data we’ve seen indicates that USCG Istanbul has approximately 80 direct-hire US employees.

By law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days so after the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post (authorized or ordered), the 180-day clock “begins ticking”. The order can be lifted at any time but if family members are not allowed to return to post, and no reassignment decision has been reached, the post status could change to “unaccompanied”.  For those not in the FS, that means, family members will not be allowed to return to post and incoming employees will no longer be allowed to bring their family members to their diplomatic assignment.

The latest evacuation order for USCG Istanbul could potentially last until April 2017 unless terminated earlier, or could be extended with a new order. Note that a previous evacuation order for US Mission Turkey was terminated in September 2016 and about five weeks later, the current evacuation order was issued. Who would have thought that Istanbul would become more restrictive than say, Beirut, where employees can still bring adult family members to post?

In any case, we understand that US Mission Turkey’s DCM had a meeting recently with the staff to let them know that post and HR/EX had agreed to halt all curtailments. Apparently, employees were told they cannot leave post until they have incoming replacements. But see — if they’re not allowed to send in their requests, or if the jobs of the curtailing employees are not listed anywhere, how will folks know about these job vacancies?  How will incoming replacements come about?  We understand that the hold placed on all curtailments apparently has “no stated expiration.”

We asked the State Department about this “no curtailment” decree specific to USCG Istanbul. Below is the full official response we received:

We cannot comment on the status of individual requests, but we can confirm that it is incorrect that a “no curtailments” policy is in effect in Mission Turkey. The Department adjudicates curtailment requests on a case by case basis, in line with established regulations and procedures. In doing so, we take into account the well-being and the individual circumstances of our employees and their family members, as well as the need to ensure sufficient staffing to undertake the important work of our diplomatic posts.

We should note that we did not inquire about individual curtailments; and our question was specific to Istanbul, and did not include Ankara or Adana. You are welcome to interpret “Mission Turkey” in the most convenient way, of course.

We’ve learned that this is not the first instance of a decree issued on specific posts. In one NEA post, the Front Office reportedly made it known that it “would not accept” curtailment requests until further down the “ordered departure” road.  During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Director General was also reportedly asked to implement a policy that no curtailment requests from those affected posts would be allowed until senior management decided it was “appropriate.”

We can see where the State Department is coming from; it certainly would not like to see mass curtailments from staffers but  — there is no authority in the books that prohibit curtailment requests. And as somebody familiar with the bureau puts it, “HR knows this damn well.”  

Curtailment is the shortening of an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment.  It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  The statutory authority for curtailment is found in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

In the Foreign Affairs Manual, 3 FAM 2443.1 allows an employee assigned abroad to request curtailment of his or her tour of duty for any reason.  The regs say that the employee should submit a written request for curtailment that explains the reasons for the request to the appropriate assignment panel through his or her counseling and assignment officer. Post management must state its support for or opposition to the employee’s request.  The Foreign Affairs Manual makes clear that a curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one.

The FAM provides any employee the right to request a curtailment for any reason at any time, regardless of where the employees are serving.  It’s been pointed out to us that this does not/not mean that the assignment panel will approve the request. We understand that the panel’s decision typically depends on the argument made by the CDO (Career Development Office) at panel and whether ECS (Employee Consultation Service) strongly supports the “compassionate curtailment.”

A source familiar with the workings of the bureau observed that if post is refusing to send out the curtailment request via cable, the employee needs to connect with his/her CDO and go the DGDirect route. If necessary, employees can also go to AFSA, as there are precedence for this in prior attempts to declare no curtailment decrees at other posts under “ordered departure” or where there were outbreaks of diseases (Ebola, Zika).

Note that 3 FAM 2446 provides the Director General of the Foreign Service the authority to propose curtailment from any assignment sua sponteAccording to the FAM, the Director General may overrule the assignment panel decision to curtail or not to curtail if the Director General determines that to do so is in the best interests of the Foreign Service or the post.

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