By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. will work to ensure that military relations with Turkey will be unaffected by an ongoing diplomatic row, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Wednesday.
“It’s a NATO ally that we will work hard to stay aligned with against our common enemy. And we are doing good work together, military to military," Mattis told reporters en route to Central Command in Tampa, Florida.
Ongoing military operations have so far been "unaffected" by the row, Mattis said. When asked if he thought future operations could be affected if tensions continue to run high, he said he did not want to speculate but said past diplomatic spats with various countries have not deteriorated military ties.
The U.S. Embassy in Turkey announced Sunday it was suspending the issuance of non-immigrant visas to Turkish nationals following the arrest of Metin Topuz, a Turkish employee of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.
In a retaliatory move, Turkey's Washington Embassy also suspended non-immigrant visa services.
Topuz is suspected to be linked to the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind last year’s defeated coup attempt in Turkey, according to a judicial source.
The U.S.'s outgoing Turkey envoy, John Bass, announced the visa suspension and issued a video discussing his decision, but there has yet to be any official comment from Washington.
“I personally find it odd that high-level U.S. officials did not conduct any means of communication with our foreign minister. It is concerning for an Ankara ambassador to take such a decision then claim he took it ‘in the name of my country’,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.
Erdogan warned that Turkish-U.S. ties could be further damaged if U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration played a role in the visa decision.
The State Department confirmed Tuesday that Bass had not unilaterally taken the action, saying "our ambassadors tend to not do things unilaterally".
"This was coordinated with the State Department. It was coordinated with the White House and coordinated with the NSC (National Security Council)," spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.
Nauert said the U.S. was "very disappointed" by the Turkish government's arrest of two of their local staff, including Topuz.