Turkish Court Opens Espionage Trial of US Consulate Staffer
ISTANBUL - March 26, 2019
The trial of a US consulate employee has begun in Turkey.
Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen and liaison with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, was arrested in 2017, accused of ties to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says ordered a failed 2016 coup.
The 78-page indictment states that Topuz maintained "active contacts" with the Turkish police and prosecutors, who led the anti-corruption investigation into senior government officials. Topuz could face life imprisonment if found guilty.
The US embassy has called the accusations "wholly without merit."
The process begins against the background of exacerbations in relations between the US and Turkey due to disagreements over the war in Syria, Turkey’s purchase of Russian missiles, and the United States' refusal to extradite Gulen.
Since the military coup in 2016, Turkey regularly arrests supporters of Gulen. In Addition to the arrests, more than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended from public sector jobs.
The West suspects that Ankara, under the slogan of fighting against “terrorists,” is engaged in the persecution of dissidents. But Turkish officials say the raids are needed to clear Gulen's influence from state institutions.
The arrest of Metin Topuz in 2017 triggered a diplomatic crisis with both Turkey and the US suspending visa services until they stepped back.
While, Turkey and the United States remain important NATO allies, their relations are often in crisis. As for the Topuz’ case, US officials say freeing "unjustly detained" Turkish nationals on their staff is a priority, as is the case of NASA scientist Serkan Golge, a dual US-Turkish national jailed on terror charges.
Another Istanbul local consulate staffer, Mete Canturk, is under house arrest and facing similar charges to Topuz.
In January, a judge convicted Hamza Ulucay, a former local employee of the U.S. consulate in Adana, southern Turkey, of helping outlawed Kurdish militants. He was released for time already served.
However, the main stumbling block in US-Turkish relations is, perhaps, Gulen, who found political asylum in the US. Ankara considers his organization a terrorist one, accuses him of preparing a military coup and demands his extradition from the US. Gulen denies the coup accusations and Washington, in turn, ignores this request.
Both the US and Turkey understand that they continue to be serious allies in the region, members of NATO. But Turkey is trying to get out from under forcible US patronage, to pick up some parts of the political agenda for itself, to get control from out of the US. Diplomatic instruments are also being used. Opposition tactics will continue, but one should not expect any sharp escalation of the conflict in the near future. For Erdogan and Trump, the relationship is as follows: They make complimentary statements about each other, then after two weeks they start swearing, then they become friends again.
As for the dispute over Gülen’s extradition, it will remain in a frozen state: The Turkish side will demand the extradition of the preacher, the US will regularly say that they have some procedural difficulties with this. As we see, this problem does not prevent Erdogan from flying to Washington, and hugging Trump and claiming that they are better friends.
It is worth recalling that a sharp aggravation of relations with allies has become almost commonplace for Turkey. For example, last September, Germany froze all large arms shipments to Turkey in response to the refusal to release German human rights defenders detained in the country.
At the end of 2015, relations with Russia approached a critical point and almost turned into an armed conflict because of a Russian military plane shot down by Turkish fighters. For seven months, bilateral relations were actually frozen, which had a negative impact on the Turkish economy. It took almost three years for Russian-Turkish relations to be more or less normalized.
As for US–Turkey relations, they plummeted to a low last year over detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, triggering tit-for-tat sanctions which led to a dramatic deterioration of the Turkish economy and had a strong negative impact on the national currency. Brunson was released in October last year and relations improved.
And now there is a new aggravation. Today, Washington is considering the possibility of ceasing the actions that are currently being carried out in order to prepare Turkey to receive the F-35, manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp in connection with Ankara’s desire to acquire Russian anti-aircraft complexes S-400.
We will not talk about the contradictions between the US and Turkey regarding the Syrian problem. Much has been said about that, so we will just say that they are and they are very serious. And this applies not only to Syria, but also the entire Middle East region.
We can only hope that the political background of the trial will not affect the objective work of the judges. What else is there?