A Republican senator has said the U.S. needs to show to Turkey that Washington is “prepared to act in terms of sanctions” and suggested “rethinking relationship” with its NATO ally over the imprisonment of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson.
Noting growing exasperation, Senator Thomas Tillis (R-N.C.) stated that “We tried to show respect to the Turkish Government and met with the Ambassador and Foreign Minister, but now we have to show we are prepared to act in terms of sanctions and changing the nature of our relationship.”
“We have to look at all of our ties with Turkey and question whether that is the best partner on national defense and economic ties,” he added.
The trial of Pastor Brunson significantly strained relations between Turkey and the U.S. Last month, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Tillis, called for banning delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.
“Turkey is a NATO ally, we have an Air Force base there and we have a very close relationship with them when it comes to manufacturing the Joint-Strike Fighter Program, but we have to rethink our relationship with Turkey if this how they are going to treat American citizens,” he noted.
“It is unheard of for NATO allies to treat people this way,” he said, expressing his disappointment.
The persistent U.S. calls for the release of Pastor Brunson went unheeded. He faces up to 35 years in prison on charges of espionage, membership to Muslim Gulen Movement and links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The pastor called such charges shameful and disgusting. He has lived in Izmir for more than two decades and built a Presbyterian church there. He also engaged in multicultural and interfaith activities.
Senator Tillis slammed Turkey over the trial where a secret witness testified against the pastor.
“I saw a lot of testimony from secret witnesses when I was in Turkey for Pastor Brunson’s first trial about a month ago. The allegations against him are absurd, and even more absurd is Pastor Brunson requesting 10 witnesses to testify in his defense and being denied,” the senator from North Carolina told Fox News.
A secret witness claimed that Pastor’s ultimate aim was to help the formation of a Christian Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey where security forces fight against outlawed Kurdish militants linked with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The senator appeared dismayed over the allegations. “That is the nature of this kangaroo court we are witnessing in Turkey,” he said during Fox interview.
He noted that the U.S. goal is to increase pressure on Turkey to secure the release of Pastor Brunson who has remained in prison for over 578 days. During much of his pre-trial detention, there were no charges or was an indictment against the pastor.
Senator Tillis also emphasized the existence of other American citizens who have either been sentenced or are awaiting trial. This, he warned, has to stop or “we have to rethink our relationship with Turkey.”
Last month, President Donald J. Trump dismissed spy charges against the pastor and described him “a fine gentleman and a Christian leader.”
Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018