Trump Threatens Turkey With ‘Large Sanctions’ Over Pastor Brunson’s Detention
A day after U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson was transferred from jail to house arrest, President Donald J. Trump has threatened Turkey with large sanctions over Brunson’s ongoing detention, calling for his immediate release.
“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly,” the president said on Twitter. “This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”
The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
After 19 months in prison, Pastor Brunson was released by a court in the western province of Izmir on Wednesday. He faces charges of espionage and abetting terrorist organizations, accusations that are regarded by his legal defense team and the U.S. authorities as baseless.
In in the initial reaction from the U.S. side, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed “long overdue news” but he said it was not enough.
We welcome long overdue news that Pastor Brunson has been moved from prison to house arrest in #Turkey, but it is not enough. We have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson, and call on Turkish authorities to resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner. pic.twitter.com/So2A4hfinZ
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 25, 2018
Brunson who had been living in Izmir for more than two decades was arrested in October 2016.
His case has become a thorn in the side of bilateral relations over the past two years.
Trump’s remarks represented the most clear-cut threat against Turkey. When a Turkish court refused to release Brunson last week, the U.S. president called the court ruling a “total disgrace.”
In a call on Twitter, he said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father.”
A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2018
Several hours before Trump’s latest threatening remarks today, Vice President Mike Pence hinted placing potential sanctions against Turkey.
“Brunson is an innocent man, there is no credible evidence against him,” Pence said on Thursday at the end of a conference on religious freedom.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu shrugged off the U.S. criticism and threats.
“No one dictates Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
The Turkish-U.S. relations have been strained over the ongoing trial in Izmir.
Last year, President Erdogan signaled that the pastor indeed has been held as a hostage to be used as a bargaining chip to secure the extradition of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric blamed by Ankara for the failed 2016 coup.
“You have a pastor, too. You give us that one and we’ll work with our judiciary and give back yours,” Erdogan said at a speech in police academy in September last year. The pastor he meant is Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim scholar who lives in self-exile in the U.S. He denies any involvement in the 2016 coup that killed hundreds of people and sparked a sweeping purge in the aftermath.
The U.S. side has refused Erdogan’s proposal for a prisoner swap between Gulen ad Brunson.
Last week, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators has brought a new draft bill in a bid to block international financial loans to Turkey over Pastor’s detention.
“Not clear what they can do at this stage except to make it difficult for the Turks to get funds from international financial institutions,” Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert and Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University, told Globe Post Turkey.
“There are no formal sanctions mechanisms beyond that. You cannot impose F35 sanctions for this–besides this is related to S400,” he added, citing ambiguity over the nature of possible sanctions other than remarks at the moment.
But Barkey pointed to the deteriorating mood in the U.S. capital toward Turkey. “The mood in D.C. vis a vis Turkey is very sour, which is another way pressure gets put on because private financial institutions, the Morgan Stanleys of the world, pay attention to such signals.”
“The more negative the mood is, the higher becomes the cost of borrowing for the Turks,” the professor said.