Brunson released due to U.S. pressure on Turkey - FT

Turkey’s decision to release Andrew Brunson after the American pastor spent two years in jail for allegedly collaborating with two outlawed organisations came due to severe U.S. pressure on the Turkish economy, journalists Ayla Jean Yackey and Jonathan Wheatley have written in an article for the Financial Times.

Brunson was released on Friday after a Turkish court sentenced him to more than three years, but ruled that his time served was sufficient to complete his sentence.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he has had no bearing on the court’s rulings, though many familiar with the case view the charges against Brunson as baseless and have accused the Turkish government of holding him and other foreign nationals as “hostages” to extract concessions from their home countries.

In Brunson’s case, the strategy appears to have backfired, as the Financial Times journalists credit the fallout from the pastor’s imprisonment with sparking a precipitous fall in the lira, which has plummeted in recent months and is currently down this year by over 35 per cent to the dollar.

Some observers see the release of Brunson as proof that U.S. President Donald Trump’s pressure on Turkey has had the desired effect.

“Erdogan realised that he is dealing with an unconventional president,” Yackey quoted Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish programme at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as saying.

Trump’s decision to pile the pressure on Turkey after another deal to free Brunson reportedly fell through in July led to sanctions and tariff hikes in August amid a raging diplomatic feud – Erdoğan called it economic warfare – that left the Turkish lira plummeting throughout the month.

After this the economy has become the top priority for Erdoğan’s administration, said Yackey, thanks in no small part to the soaring inflation figures, which hit almost 25 per cent in September.

“The resolution of the Brunson case is good news as it will eliminate some uncertainty. The Turkish lira has already appreciated and that will ease part of the inflation pressure,” Yackey quoted Spanish bank BBVA’s chief Turkey economist Alvaro Ortiz Vidal-Abarca as saying.

“The lira, which had plummeted because of the Brunson dispute, rallied nearly 3 per cent on Thursday as rumours spread of Mr Brunson’s imminent release. The currency was little changed after the news, but the price of a 10-year government bond gained almost 12 per cent after the news broke,” Yackey and Wheatley wrote.

Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research at the Froundation for Defense of Democracies said on American Fox News channel that he hopes the U.S. did not cave and made no deal over Pastor Brunson with Turkey. Schanzer said "Turkey threw itself under the bus" by its treatment of journalists, links to Hamas and in many other regional policies as well as destroying its own democracy. If Erdogan did not take his lesson in Brunson episode, then there will be other fights coming, Schanzer added.