The United States and Turkey have agreed to deal with the row over detained US pastor Andrew Brunson diplomatically. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned Turkey of serious consequences if the pastor is not released.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, held talks in Singapore on Friday on the sidelines of a regional summit and agreed to continue to try to resolve bilateral issues between the two countries.
Washington imposed sanctions on two of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ministers over the trial of Andrew Brunson, a US pastor whom Turkish authorities accuse of espionage and backing terror groups. Washington has maintained that there is no credible evidence to support the charges.
The 50-year-old Brunson was arrested in December 2016, following a failed military coup against Erdogan, on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and espionage. Now subject to house arrest, he faces a prison sentence of up to 35 years if he is convicted on both counts at the end of his ongoing trial.
The evangelical pastor, who is originally from North Carolina, has lived in Turkey for 23 years and ran the Izmir Resurrection Church.
Pompeo told reporters travelling with him to Singapore the US had put Turkey on notice “that the clock had run and it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned.”
“I hope they’ll see this for what it is, a demonstration that we’re very serious,” Pompeo said of the sanctions. “We consider this one of the many issues that we have with the Turks.”
“Brunson needs to come home. As do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government. Pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people,” he added.
But Cavusoglu insisted that US threats and sanctions would not be effective.
“We have said from the start that the other side’s threatening language and sanctions will not get any result. We repeated this today,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Singapore after his meeting with Pompeo.
US, Turkey at odds
On Wednesday, the White House announced it was imposing sanctions on Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu for their role in Brunson’s detention.
“We believe he [Brunson] is a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey,” US Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
President Erdogan has said that he will not be swayed by sanctions.
However, he has indicated that he would swap Brunson for Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Muslim cleric accused of plotting the 2016 coup against Erdogan.
Ilhan Uzgel, an Ankara-based political scientist, says that Turkey needs to take the Brunson row seriously.
“The US is sending a message to Turkey that it is losing confidence in President Erdogan’s government. The diplomatic row escalated because of Turkey’s miscalculation. Ankara wanted to use Brunson as a bargaining chip with Washington, but the plan backfired,” Uzgel told DW.
“But on the other hand, the US and Turkey are engaged in a dialogue. These discussions must continue,” Uzgel added.
The US uses bases in Turkey for its military operations across the Middle East, but the two countries have sparred over numerous issues, including Washington’s support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, whom Ankara sees as a threat to its political stability.
shs/rt (Reuters, AFP)