Turkey dismisses US sanctions over detained pastor, vows dialogue
ANKARA: Turkey and the US failed to resolve a diplomatic standoff over a detained pastor in talks between their top diplomats, with Ankara warning sanctions imposed by Washington would not work.
Andrew Brunson, who led a Protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, is at the centre of one of the most serious crises in relations between the NATO allies in years.
Brunson was moved to house arrest last week following nearly two years in jail on terror-related charges but the change only increased tensions.
The US responded to the failure to fully free Brunson by hitting two top Turkish ministers with sanctions, prompting Ankara to threaten reciprocal measures.
“We have said from the start that the other side’s threatening language and sanctions will not get any result. We repeated this today,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said after he and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on the sidelines of a regional security summit in Singapore.
Two Turkish employees of US consulates in Turkey are also currently in jail on terror charges and another is under house arrest, while several Americans have been caught up in the crackdown that followed a failed 2016 coup.
“I hope they’ll see this for what it is, a demonstration that we’re very serious,” Pompeo said in Singapore of the sanctions.
“Brunson needs to come home. As do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government,” he added. “They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people.”
‘Relations will never break’
On Friday State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said Pompeo and Cavusoglu had a “constructive conversation” and “agreed to continue to try to resolve the issues between our two countries”.
Cavusoglu also said the talks were “extremely constructive” but warned in comments to Turkish media that all the issues would not be solved “after one meeting”.
Turkish Finance Minister and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, said both sides wanted to continue dialogue.
“Even couples who are married for 40 years do not agree on every issue. They argue then make up,” Albayrak said, adding: “Relations will never break off.”
Erdogan, who is known for his sometimes provocative anti-Western rhetoric, has yet to comment.
He gave an almost two hour policy speech in Ankara Friday, without once referring directly to the tensions.
Some analysts have argued Turkey is wary of allowing any further escalation in the crisis, which has already sent the lira to record lows in value against the dollar of above 5 for the first time.
The standoff appears to be one of the most serious fallouts between the two NATO allies in modern history, along with the rows over the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
The US imposed the sanctions on Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, arguing that both men played a major role in the arrest and detention of the pastor.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who shares Brunson’s evangelical Christian faith, have made his release a priority.
The pastor denies the charges against him and his defence team argues the case is built on questionable witness statements. His next hearing is set for October 12.
Brunson, whose trial began in the spring, faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.
US-Turkey ties were already strained over US support for a Syrian Kurdish militia which Turkey views as a terrorist group and the failure to extradite Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen blamed for the 2016 failed putsch.
After Ankara launched an offensive in January supporting Syrian rebels against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in its western enclave of Afrin in Syria, the US called for restraint.
But the NATO allies then agreed on a roadmap for the YPG-held Manbij after Ankara threatened to extend the operation to the northern town where there are US forces.
Erdogan on Friday said in his Ankara speech that Turkey expected joint efforts regarding Manbij “to continue without being affected by other issues”, in a possible indirect reference to the dispute with Washington.