Iranians flooding an overwhelmed U.S. Embassy in Turkey
Apart from maybe nuclear-armed Pakistan and India, it’s hard to imagine an American diplomatic mission more important to the United States than Turkey, a Near East tinderbox and “a frontline state in countering narcotics, human trafficking, organized crime, money laundering, terrorism, and nuclear proliferation,” in the words of the State Department.
Yet the American embassy in Ankara and its consulate in Istanbul are so small and creaky -- and dangerous -- that other U.S. agencies housed in them (including the CIA, the FBI and the Agency for International Development) are ready to flee, according to an inspection report released Friday.
Iranian visa applicants alone are overwhelming the facilities, the report said. That and a recent fire in an Ankara annex’s boiler room should have sent a strong message, but it evidently didn’t, said the State Department’s inspector general, who audited the facilities in January.
Turkey borders Iran, and more than 8,300 Iranians are expected to apply for U.S. visas by year’s end. “If such trends continue, the consular section in Ankara will be unable to handle the workload,” the IG said.
“The physical capacity of the section is finite. There is no cost-effective way to expand the capacity of the waiting room, which seats approximately 80 people. There is no space outside to add waiting room capacity as the waiting room is situated almost directly on a street.”
Everybody working there is fed up with the situation, the report suggested.
“Pressure is surfacing among some agencies to take their operations elsewhere in Turkey or even out of Turkey entirely because of their inability to meet their needs in the space allocated to them,” the report said.
“None of the buildings provides adequate or appropriate work space. Embassy sections and agencies are sometimes spread throughout the facilities in counterproductive ways. Annex II, a converted house, is particularly egregious and was described as ‘beyond Pluto’ by one of its denizens,” the report said.
“A recent fire in the Annex II boiler room could have had disastrous consequences and should be taken as a signal to push forward, with increased urgency, the issue of a new embassy compound.”
Considering that Turkey also borders Syria, the auditors said, one would think that the nearby U.S. consulate at Adana, which “provides strategically important reporting on issues such as the political implications of the opening of the Turkish-Syrian border and Kurdish activities with transnational terrorism linkages,” would get special security attention.
“U.S. classified communications … are available to staff only at Incirlik Air Base, where entry is controlled by the Turkish military,” the report said. The consulate’s diplomatic, intelligence and military personnel have to travel to the air base and pass through Turkish guards to send a classified report to Washington.
A bright spot: The American ambassador to Turkey,
veteran diplomat Francis J. Ricciardone, James Franklin Jeffrey, and the deputy chief of mission at the time of the audit, Douglas A. Silliman. (Silliman was appointed chargé d'affaires last month.)
Jeffrey was deputy national security advisor to President George W. Bush before his appointment to Ankara. He had been deputy chief of mission there from 1999 to 2002.
“Leadership at Embassy Ankara is strong,” the inspector general said. "Both the ambassador and the deputy chief of mission (DCM) are fully committed to the substantive agenda of bilateral relations between Turkey and the United States, and are perceived as such universally throughout the embassy.
"Their commitment comes with encyclopedic knowledge of the Turkey account, a clear vision for the future, and a realistic understanding of the difficulties of getting things done in Turkey," the report said.
| August 13, 2010; 10:45 PM ET
Categories: Foreign policy, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Military
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