The Turkish government must waive diplomatic immunity for individuals involved in a clash with police and protesters earlier this month, a bipartisan group of senators wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this week, or else face rescinded visas and revoked diplomatic credentials.
Dark-suited, gun-carrying men that appeared to be security personnel accompanying Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly to assault peaceful protesters gathered outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence earlier this month. Video of the incident shows them charging past a line of police officers to attack the protesters in Northwest Washington’s Sheridan Circle.
On a separate video, Erdogan himself can be seen calmly watching the fighting unfold from the driveway of the ambassador’s residence before turning his back and walking inside.
The U.S. lawmakers, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), wrote in a letter dated Tuesday that Erdogan’s security had “engaged in a brutal, unprovoked, and inexcusable attack against protestors” and labeled their actions “wholly unacceptable.”
“It is clear to us that both the Turkish government and its representative in the U.S., Ambassador Serdar Kılıç, bear responsibility for the unjustifiable actions of the Turkish security personnel,” said the letter, a copy of which was provided to POLITICO. The letter’s other signatories included Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
In a statement issued in the hours after the clash, the State Department said it was “communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms” and added that “violence is never an appropriate response to free speech.” Turkey, for its part, has disputed that its personnel were at fault and summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara to protest the "aggressive and unprofessional actions" of police.
While the State Department has voiced its concerns to the Turkish government, the senators’ letter calls for additional steps, including making it known to Turkey’s ambassador and government that the U.S. expects diplomatic immunity be waived for all personnel involved in the melee and that they be made available to U.S. law enforcement. Short of that, the letter suggested that Tillerson “rescind visas for certain Turkish government officials including revoking the diplomatic credentials of” the Turkish ambassador.
Both the fight itself as well as the diplomatic back and forth between the two NATO allies offers a clear look at the depths to which the U.S.-Turkey relationship has sunk amid power-grabbing moves by Erdogan and disputes over how best to combat the Islamic State. That the two nations are, in fact, allies was not lost on the letter-writing senators.
“We are disappointed that this message must be conveyed to a close NATO ally,” they wrote. “But our longstanding relationship demands we maintain an honest dialogue and address unacceptable behavior whenever it occurs."