US, Turkey dispute fighting in DC as ambassador summoned
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey summoned the American ambassador on Monday to protest what it called “aggressive and unprofessional actions” by American security personnel against Turkish bodyguards during a violent incident last week in Washington. The U.S. ambassador told Turkey’s government its guards violated U.S. laws, a senior U.S. official said.
Turkey’s action appeared to represent retaliation for the forceful U.S. criticism of the Turkish guards’ behavior in the American capital, where they accompanied President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his visit. The U.S. summoned Turkey’s U.S. ambassador last week after the Turkish security officers were seen hitting and kicking protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence; one video shared on social media even showed Erdogan watching the melee.
Turkey didn’t specify the actions by U.S. security officials it deemed inappropriate. Video from the scene had showed U.S. police struggling to protect protesters, and two Turkish bodyguards were briefly detained after the incident. They were then set free and returned to Turkey.
In the meeting with Turkey’s Foreign Ministry in Ankara, U.S. Ambassador John Bass said the security personnel’s behavior contradicted U.S. laws and protected speech and assembly rights, according to a senior U.S. State Department official.
Bass and the Turkish officials disagreed about what prompted the outbreak of violence, said the official, who demanded anonymity to discuss private diplomatic conversations. The official said Bass told the Turks the U.S. was looking into what happened and why — an apparent nod to Turkey’s demand for “a full investigation of this diplomatic incident.”
Pressure has been mounting on the Trump administration not to let the violence on U.S. soil go unpunished. Last week’s incident wasn’t the first such case during an Erdogan visit. Last year, a similar scuffle erupted outside a nuclear security summit that Erdogan attended in Washington.
A pair of senators who oversee the U.S. foreign aid budget added to the pressure with a letter to Turkey’s ambassador warning there could be fiscal repercussions if Ankara fails to punish the bodyguards responsible. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Patrick Leahy D-Vt., said in a letter released Monday that there could be “potential implications for assistance to Turkey” if the unseemly incident isn’t taken seriously by Ankara.
And a group of nearly 30 Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday demanding that the Turkish guards be “arrested, prosecuted and jailed.” The prospect of arrest is unlikely — many of them have already returned to Turkey, immunity for those posted in the U.S. is an issue, and the countries are already in an unrelated spat over extradition.
The Democrats also faulted Tillerson for what they suggested was his failure to speak out loudly against the Turkish actions.
“This kind of behavior by a foreign security detail is reprehensible and cannot be tolerated,” they wrote.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed that Bass had been summoned to discuss the situation with the Turks and called the conduct of the Turkish guards “deeply disturbing.”
“The State Department has raised its concerns about those events at the highest levels,” Nauert said.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that a formal, written protest was delivered to Bass, describing the treatment of its two security officers as “contrary to diplomatic rules and practices.” Although earlier reports suggested the detained officers had been Erdogan’s guards, the statement said they were part of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s security detail. Cavusoglu traveled with Erdogan.
The fracas has added to already strained U.S.-Turkish ties. The NATO allies have publicly clashed over a U.S. decision to arm Syrian Kurdish rebels fighting the Islamic State group in Syria. Turkey considers the fighters to be an extension the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey known as the PKK, and claims without evidence that protesters who showed up during Erdogan’s visit to Washington last week were themselves associated with the PKK.
Shortly after news broke that he had been summoned, Bass was at the airport in Ankara to greet U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley as she arrived on a previously scheduled trip. Bass joined the visiting diplomat as her motorcade ferried Haley to an Ankara hotel. It wasn’t clear if Haley would broach the subject in any meetings with Turkish officials.
Associated Press writer Richard Lardner in Washington contributed to this report.