Washington’s relationship with Ankara is continuing to head south, and Turkey’s currency is following. The latest flashpoint in tensions between the two strategic allies is what appears to be a miscommunication regarding the status of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson.
The US citizen was detained on charges that he was complicit in a 2016 coup attempt and has aided militants considered terrorists by Turkish authorities.
After a statement from Brunson’s lawyer last week that appeared to suggest a deal had been made to release the pastor to the United States, US Vice-President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump both issued threats that Turkey would face sanctions if they didn’t grant Brunson a full release.
Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu was the first to respond to the threat of tariffs, writing on Twitter that “no one dictates Turkey.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoed Cavusoglu’s comments, indicating that Brunson’s fate would be decided by courts.
“Just as America has its judiciary, Turkey does as well…. Instead of respecting the decision of the judiciary, they are making this a matter of sanctions against Turkey. You cannot make Turkey step back with sanctions,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.
The Washington Post shed more light on Trump’s anger regarding Brunson’s status, suggesting in an article that the US president might have thought he had made progress in securing the pastor’s release in talks with Erdogan.
Hurriyet Daily News noted that the reported bargain between the two presidents didn’t pass the smell test, considering Brunson’s alleged transgressions. The Turkish news outlet said Erdogan had previously hinted to Trump that Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gulen – the man Erdogan credits with organizing the 2016 coup attempt – would have to be released in exchange, when he told his US counterpart, “Give the priest, take the priest.”
US lawmakers have also inserted themselves in the situation, with some in Congress citing Brunson’s detention as a reason to block the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.
The prospect of sanctions helped the lira extend its slide, which has had few interruptions this year, with the currency falling as much as 1% on Monday.