Turkey accuses Trump of jeopardizing long-standing ties
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A senior Turkish official accused U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday of jeopardizing the long-standing ties between Turkey and the United States by allowing sanctions on two Turkish ministers over the detention of an American pastor.
The Turkish government called on the United States to reverse its decision to subject Turkey’s interior and justice ministers to financial sanctions.
Ankara also vowed to retaliate for Washington’s move, which is aimed at pressuring NATO ally Turkey into releasing Pastor Andrew Brunson. The evangelical pastor originally from North Carolina is on trial in Turkey on espionage and terror-related charges.
The sanctions have inflamed already tense relations between the two countries that are allied in the fight against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan but can no longer see eye-to-eye over a series of issues, including Washington’s support to Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara considers to be terrorists.
Relations have also soured over the recent conviction in the U.S. of a Turkish banker of charges of helping Iran evade sanctions.
Ilnur Cevik, a senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told The Associated Press that Turkey was deliberating possible measures, but wanted to “minimize the damage.”
“Everyone’s very disappointed. Nobody expected this kind of treatment (toward) two Cabinet ministers,” Cevik said. “President Trump is taking a very small case and jeopardizing Turkish-American relations and Turkish-American friendship.”
“What the Turkish side is doing is not burning all the bridges but trying to keep the bridge intact and try to salvage whatever is left of the relations,” he added.
The White House said the sanctions would target Turkey’s justice and interior ministers, the officials Washington held responsible for the pastor’s arrest and detention.
The Trump administration insists there is no evidence against Brunson and says he is being treated in an “unfair and unjust” manner.
“President Trump insults the Turkish judicial system,” Cevik said. “He says the pastor is being kept a hostage in Turkey. He is not a hostage — he is under trial in Turkey.”
Under the sanctions to be imposed by the Treasury Department, any property or interest in property belonging to Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul or Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu within U.S. jurisdiction would be blocked. Americans would generally be prohibited from doing business with them.
Berat Albayrak, the Turkish treasury and finance minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law, called the sanctions “unacceptable” Thursday, but said they would have “limited” effect on Turkey and its economy.
News of the sanctions scared financial markets on Wednesday, causing the Turkish lira to drop to record lows.
Soylu on Thursday mocked the sanctions, saying his only asset in the United States is U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016 and wants extradited.
Brunson, 50, was arrested in December 2016 following the coup on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and espionage. He was recently released to home detention due to health reasons. 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 Black Mountain, North Carolina, has lived in Turkey for 23 years and leads the Izmir Resurrection Church.
Erdogan has denied speculation that there had been an agreement to swap Brunson for Turkish citizens being held abroad, particularly 27-year-old Ebru Ozkan. Ozkan had been detained by Israel on terror-related charges, but was deported this month.
The Turkish leader previously connected Brunson’s return to the U.S. to Gulen’s extradition. The cleric denies involvement in the coup.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the sanctions against the Turkish minister on his Twitter account, saying Washington’s “addiction to sanctions knows no bounds.”