Turkey and United States have continued to lock horns over the detention of US pastor, Andrew Brunson, culminating in the escalation of diplomatic standoff between the two NATO allies. In this piece, JOHN OKEKE examines the events as they unfold.
The United States has continued to intensify pressure on Turkey to try to secure the freedom of the controversial American pastor, Andrew Brunson. Mr Brunson’s fate hangs in the balance as the leaders of the two NATO allies clash with each other.
Washington imposed sanctions on two of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ministers and tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminium in response to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s refusal to free Mr. Brunson.
However, Turkey has vowed not to cave in to US threats and bullies, as Ankara has threatened to increase tariffs on imports of several key US products in retaliation for US sanctions.
The US pastor was accused of espionage and backing terror groups in Turkey. Washington has maintained that there is no credible evidence to support the charges.
Ankara has made several attempts to resolve the raging diplomatic spat with Washington but US has adamantly insisted that the immediate release of Mr. Brunson will be the only surefire way for peace talk.
Also, President Erdogan has demanded Trump to extradite the exiled Fethullah Gülen, who was responsible for the 2016 Turkey’s failed bloody coup, which US has been shielding, in exchange for the release of Mr. Brunson.
The 50-year-old Brunson was arrested in December 2016, following a thwarted military coup against Erdogan-led government, orchestrated by Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO), which claimed 250 innocent lives.
The controversial evangelical pastor, who is originally from North Carolina, has lived in Turkey for 23 years and ran the Izmir Resurrection Church.
Turkey and US’s strong cooperation in the fight against ISIL has demonstrated their loathing for terrorism, but analysts have doubted US sincerity in the anti-terrorism war, wondering why Washington is still harbouring Mr. Gülen, who they know was behind the botched coup that wasted innocent lives in 2016.
They have challenged Trump to prove US sincerity in the fight against terror by accepting Erdogan’s demand to swap Brunson for Gülen instead of demanding the immediate release of the Izmir Resurrection Church senior pastor and not planning to extradite the FETO leader.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, held talks in Singapore last Friday on the sidelines of a regional summit and agreed to continue to try to resolve bilateral issues between the two countries.
Pompeo told reporters, who travelled with him to Singapore that the US had put Turkey on notice “that the clock had run and it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned.”
“I hope they’ll see this for what it is, a demonstration that we’re very serious,” Pompeo said of the sanctions. “We consider this one of the many issues that we have with the Turks.”
“Brunson needs to come home. As do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government. Pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people,” he added.
But Cavusoglu insisted that US threats and sanctions would not be effective.
“We have said from the start that the other side’s threatening language and sanctions will not get any result. We repeated this today,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Singapore after his meeting with Pompeo.
Last Wednesday, the White House announced it was imposing sanctions on Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu for their role in Brunson’s detention.
“We believe he [Brunson] is a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey,” US Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
President Erdogan has said that he will not be swayed by sanctions, insisting that he will only swap Brunson for Fethullah Gulen, the founder of Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO).
The defiant US President Donald Trump has also insisted that he will not back down in a standoff with Turkey over a detained US pastor.
“I think it’s very sad what Turkey is doing,” he said. “I think they’re making a terrible mistake. There will be no concessions.”
He said he had thought Turkey would release pastor Andrew Brunson after the US helped persuade Israel to free a detained Turkish citizen.
In a recent CNN interview with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, he alleged that The United States has an “addiction to sanctions.”
“I believe there is a disease in the United States and that is the addiction to sanctions,” Zarif told the US broadcaster on Sunday.
“Even during the Obama administration, the United States put more emphasis on keeping the sanctions it had not lifted rather than implementing its obligation on the sanctions it lifted.”
“We felt that the United States had learned that at least as far as Iran is concerned, sanctions do produce economic hardship but do not produce the political outcomes that they intended them to produce,” he said.
“I thought that the Americans had learned that lesson. Unfortunately, I was wrong,” he said.
The diplomatic spat has worsened a crisis for Turkey’s currency, the lira, which has lost about a third of its value against the dollar since January.
This has stoked widespread selling in other emerging markets, sparking fears of a global crisis.
However, Qatar has pledged a $15bn (£12bn) investment for Turkey in a bid to stave off the country economic meltdown and declare its support for Ankara.
Turkey’s lira, which plunged against the dollar last week to become the worst performing currency of the year, recovered by 5 percent on Wednesday, up 20 percent from its record low of 7.23 per dollar.
The recovery was partly aided by Qatar’s pledge of $15bn in direct investment.
Turkey has been a key US ally since 1946 and pundits have taken a heavy swipe at Washington’s sanctions on Ankara, saying that in the light of their existing NATO partnership, Trump would have adopted the dovish approach to resolve the rift.