Turkey, US in diplomatic row after ministers’ sanctions

Sean Reid
August 2, 2018

The Trump administration levied sanctions against two top Turkish government officials Wednesday, fulfilling its pledge to punish Turkey for not releasing a detained American pastor and sending relations between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies to a new low.

Turkey will retaliate against a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on two senior ministers over the imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Those organizations, it said, were responsible for "serious human rights abuses", including Brunson's arrest in 2016 and continued detention on terrorism charges.

Brunson was initially detained in October 2016 during Turkey's crackdown following an attempted putsch. He faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

United States pastor Andrew Brunson (C) is released from jail and will be put under house arrest during the duration of his trial, at Aliaga Prison in Izmir, Turkey. Pompeo and Cavusoglu spoke by phone about Brunson's detention earlier Wednesday and are expected to meet on the margins of the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this week in Singapore, she said.

"The aggressive attitude of the USA serves no goal", it said in a statement, adding that Turkey would reciprocate "without delay".

Turkish Foreign Ministry on Wednesday strongly protested against U.S. Treasury Department's decision, calling on the U.S. administration to reverse its "wrong decision".

The Turkish Lira slid to a record low beyond 5 to the dollar and stocks fell on August 2, after the United States imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers over the trial of a US pastor accused of backing terrorism. Relations between the United States and Turkey have plummeted over Brunson, who was in custody for 21 months in a Turkish prison until he was transferred to house arrest last week. "President Trump concluded that these sanctions are the appropriate action".

The pastor denies the charges and his defence team argues the case is built on questionable witness statements.

His next trial hearing is due on October 12.

Vice President Mike Pence, who like Brunson is an evangelical Christian, has declared him "a victim of religious persecution".

But on Wednesday he vowed Turkey would not give in to threats from the United States, accusing Washington of showing an "evangelist, Zionist mentality".

Ankara meanwhile upset Washington by imprisoning two Turkish employees of American consulates in the country and holding another under house arrest on terror-related charges.

The lira fell 1.6% against the USA dollar Wednesday, bringing its loss for the year to 24%.

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