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US Imposes Sanctions on Turkey’s Justice, Interior Ministers Over Detained Pastor

The U.S. administration slapped sanctions on justice and interior ministers of Turkey over the ongoing detention of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, the White House said on Wednesday. The new move that immediately sent the Turkish Lira plunging into record lows against the U.S. dollar.

“We’ve seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust detention by the government of Turkey,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

The sanctions, she noted, were placed at “the president’s direction.”

Sanders added that President Donald J. Trump discussed the matter of Pastor Brunson on several occasions with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“He’s [Trump] not happy with Turkey’s decision not to release Pastor Brunson.”

According to an official note released by the Treasury Department, the Turkish ministers have been targeted under the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016, which allows the U.S. government to target individuals, companies or other entities involved in corruption or human-rights abuses anywhere in the world.

The sanctions, Bloomberg reported earlier in the day, were modeled on the previous U.S. sanctions against Russian oligarchs who have an affiliation with the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin.

“The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action today targeting Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, both of whom played leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson,” the U.S. Treasury Department said on Wednesday.

The ministers’ property and assets within the U.S. are also blocked as part of the sanctions.

“As a result of these actions, any property, or interest in property, of both Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Turkey’s Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” the Treasury said in warning of the U.S. citizens.

Minister Gul shrugged off the U.S. sanctions in a statement on Twitter. He said he had no investment, not a single penny in the U.S.

“I have no dream other than living in these lands and dying in these lands. I have not a tree planted or a single penny neither in the U.S. nor in any country other than Turkey…” he tweeted.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the U.S. attempt to levy sanctions against two Turkish ministers will not be left without response.

“Unless the U.S. administration grasps to see that it cannot acquire its illegal demands with this method, we cannot resolve our matters,” he said on Twitter.

In a separate statement, the Turkish foreign ministry also slammed the U.S. move.

“There is no doubt that the decision, which is tantamount to a disrespectful interference in our judicial system, is against the essence of our relations with the U.S. and will inflict huge damage to constructive efforts to the resolution of matters between the two countries,” the ministry said.

It urged the U.S. administration to reverse “this wrong decision.” Ankara vowed to retaliate against the “aggressive” U.S. attitude without a delay.

Last week, President Donald J. Trump threatened to impose large sanctions on Turkey for the detention of Brunson who was released from jail and placed under house arrest after 22 months of imprisonment.

He faces up to 35 years in prison on charges of espionage and terrorism. The trial of the evangelical pastor is driving a wedge between two NATO allies.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the U.S. threat of sanctions in his repeated remarks.

“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”

After the sanctions, the Turkish lira hit record lows and is being traded for 5.0061 against the U.S. dollar.

With the move, the U.S. first time targets ministers of Turkey, a NATO ally. It certainly marks a new milestone in a fateful turn of events over the past week, breaking down a psychological barrier and entrenched mindset within the U.S. administration against pushing too much in relations with Ankara over geopolitical concerns.

Pence Renews Threat of Sanctions Against Turkey Over Pastor Brunson

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