Turkish government officials may be trying to "disrupt" relations with the United States, a senior State Department official said Monday after a local employee of the department was arrested in Turkey.
That official has been accused of working to overthrow Turkey's government. But the State Department defended his work and criticized Turkish leaders for refusing to detail the allegations or evidence against the man.
"This arrest has raised questions about whether the goal of some officials is to disrupt the long-standing cooperation between Turkey and the United States," U.S Ambassador to Turkey John Bass said in a video released by the State Department.
Bass faulted the Turks for curtailing the man's access to his attorney and leaking accusations to the media rather than working transparently with the U.S. or his defense team. He has been accused of coordinating with Turkish law enforcement officials who were arrested after the failed 2015 coup attempt against the Erdogan regime. Senior Turkish officials have never hesitated to point the finger at the United States.
"How can someone intricately linked to a terrorist group work in a U.S. mission without the U.S. embassy notifying Turkish authorities of his employment?" Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said Sunday, according to the Daily Sabah. "How can the U.S. embassy employ someone facing such allegations? They should think about that."
Bass dismissed the allegation. "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 part of his regular duties," he said. "And the Turkish government has not shared any information to indicate the employee was involved in any illegal activity."
Erdogan's team has implied repeatedly that the United States is to blame for the coup attempt, which Erdogan blames on an opposition cleric who now lives in Pennsylvania. Erdogan responded to the coup by arresting political opponents and journalists and used the event to justify a constitutional referendum that expanded his authority.
That political turmoil coincided with sharp complaints about the United States' willingness to work with Kurds in Syria and Iraq to defeat the Islamic State. Turkey regards the Kurds as a threat because a group of Turkish Kurds have fought a separatist war against the central government for decades. That led Erdogan's team to accuse the U.S. of cooperating with terrorists, a charge the State Department denounced as "harmful to our relationship" in January.
Bass's remarks take that protest a step further. They were released as Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin are working to "synchronize watches" with respect to their policies in Syria, despite the fact that Russia and the United States have opposing interests. Russia has also agreed to provide Turkey with anti-aircraft missiles, which would move the Turkish ally away from NATO weapons systems.
Trump's team may have an opportunity to strengthen ties by selling American-made weapons to the Turkish regime, but that effort is complicated by congressional anger over a violent incident that occurred during a recent Erdogan trip to the United States. Erdogan's security guards beat protesters outside the embassy in Washington, D.C.; the Turkish government then denounced the American personnel who broke up the clash.
"At this time, we can't predict how long it will take to resolve this matter," Bass said.