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US Senators Introduce Bill to Block Loans to Turkey Over Jailed Pastor

After a Turkish court refused to free U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been imprisoned pending trial in western Turkey, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a new bill to block international loans to Turkey over the matter that has significantly strained the ties between two NATO allies.

A group of six senior Republican and Democrat senators called for restricting “loans from international financial institutions to Turkey until the Turkish government ends the unjust detention of US citizens.”

From Republicans, Bob Corker, Thom Tillis and James Lankford; and Bob Mendez, Jeanne Shaheen and Bill Nelson representing Democrats, put their names on the bill in response to the court verdict which drew a sharp rebuke from U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

The U.S. president called the court ruling a “total disgrace” and urged his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to do something to ensure the release of the pastor who faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

Pastor Brunson was arrested in the western province of Izmir in October 2016 on charges of espionage, helping an outlawed terrorist organization and membership to a Muslim faith-based organization accused by the Turkish authorities for the failed 2016 coup.

The U.S. administration and the family of Brunson have steadfastly rejected charges as baseless.

The trial of the evangelical pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Izmir for more than 20 years has become a diplomatic hotspot in the Turkish-U.S. relations.

Earlier, Republican Senator Lankford and Democrat Shaheen spearheaded efforts to block the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. Despite the concerted efforts from both chambers of the U.S. Congress, Pentagon last month gave go-ahead with the delivery of the first jet as Lockheed Martin, the U.S. defense company which is the chief manufacturer of the multinational jet program, held a rollout ceremony in Texas.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged caution against the congressional move to suspend the transfer of F-35s to Turkey, citing “supply chain disruption” concerns and potential row with NATO ally.

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