Turkey warns citizens against traveling to United States

Ankara's caution is the latest in a series of back-and-forth warnings between two key NATO allies. Earlier in the week, the US warned Americans against traveling to Turkey, citing multiple concerns.

The Turkish government has warned its citizens against traveling to the United States and to take precautions if they do, saying Turks face the threat of arbitrary arrest.

It's the latest volley in a tit-for-tat diplomatic row between Washington and Ankara — two NATO allies.

Turkey's warning comes just days after Washington issued a similar warning to Americans against traveling to Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim took issue with the US warning, which he said "unfairly" portrayed Turkey as a dangerous country, and exacerbated the strained relations between the two long-time allies.

"Ankara is as safe as Washington, Istanbul is as safe as New York," Yildirim said Friday.

Earlier in the week, the US State Department suggested American citizens reconsider planned trips to Turkey, citing the threats of "terrorism and arbitrary detentions.”

A series of ongoing diplomatic skirmishes have strained relations between the US and Turkey, NATO's largest Muslim country and a key US ally in the Middle East. Among the latest developments was the recent arrest and conviction of a Turkish banker in the US who was found guilty of violating international sanctions against Iran.

That prompted a statement from Turkey's Foreign Ministry, warning that "Turkish citizens traveling to the United States may be subjected to arbitrary detentions based on testimony of unrespected sources."

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An extradition demand

The banker's trial heard testimony about corruption from senior Turkish officials. But Ankara insists the conviction was based on false evidence perpetrated by the network of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey blames Gulen for orchestrating a failed coup in Turkey in July 2016, a charge Gulen denies. Gulen, a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been living in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania for nearly 20 years.

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Ankara has demanded Gulen's extradition but the US has balked, citing insufficient evidence of his complicity. Meanwhile, Turkish officials have been busily firing and arresting tens-of-thousands of people it accuses of having ties to Gulen.

The Turkish government's warning against travel to the US comes at a time when Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is already in the country. On Friday, he was in Los Angeles and traveling on to Canada was expected to meet with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of a conference in Vancouver.

The two men are expected to discuss the latest flare-up

"An ally publishing a travel warning about us is not a serious thing, but we will discuss it with Tillerson in Vancouver," Cavusoglu said during a televised speech at the Turkish consulate in Los Angeles.

Turkey is also upset that the US has supported a Kurdish militia, which Ankara considers to be a terrorist organization, inside Syria.

Last year the US temporarily suspended visa services to Turkish citizens following the arrest of a local Turkish employee of the US Consulate in Istanbul.

bik/sms (Reuters, AP)