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Erdogan Says American Pastor Has ‘Shady Ties To Terror Groups’ As US Expects Release

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been under house arrest in the country on “espionage” charges, of having “shady relations with terrorist organizations”, at a time when the U.S. government got its hopes up for his release next Friday.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Parliament’s second legislative year, Erdogan touched on various issues both domestic and international.

During his speech, the president also brought up the case of jailed U.S. pastor Brunson, which lies at the heart of a recent crisis between the two countries.

Erdogan asserted that the U.S. was “using a pastor, who is on trial for his shady relations with terrorist organizations, as a pretext” in order to impose sanctions on Turkey. He said that this attitude was part of a “twisted mindset”, which deems Turkey a primitive tribe, rather than a democratic state.

Vowing to combat the attitude in question “within the boundaries of of diplomacy and law”, Erdogan added “I believe the U.S. administration will eventually fix its wrong stance on our country.”

He also accused the U.S. of resorting to a rhetoric of threat and blackmail to solve political and legal issues, instead of dialogue, referring to President Donald J. Trump‘s and Vice President Mike Pence‘s threats and economic sanctions on Turkey in relation to the incarceration of Brunson.

Erdogan noted that he hopes sorting out problems with the U.S. as soon as possible and reinstating strategic partnership in political and economic areas.

Pompeo expects release of Brunson this month

The Turkish president’s remarks on Brunson came as a surprise, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said only a week ago that he was hopeful Turkey would release the evangelical missionary this month.

In response to a reporter’s question regarding the issue during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Pompeo said “Yes, he could be released this month. He should have been released last month — and he should be released today, in fact.”

The case of Brunson caused tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, with President Donald J. Trump doubling tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel and Ankara retaliating with additional tariffs on some American products.The Turkish lira sank to a record low after the sanctions, including freezing of U.S. assets of ministers of interior and justice.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for a quarter-century, belongs to an evangelical Protestant church and has become a cause celebre for conservative U.S. Christians, a core base for Trump.

He was detained by the Turkish police on December 9, 2016 on charges of “spying” and “terrorism”. He is accused of assisting groups labeled as “terrorist” in Turkey that Erdogan blames for 2016’s failed coup attempt targeting him.

Erdogan had suggested making a deal for Brunson’s release, such as trading him for Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish Islamic cleric whom Erdogan accuses of backing the coup.

Brunson’s next hearing is scheduled for October 12.

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