Jun 29 2018

Erdoğan meets U.S. senators to discuss jailed Pastor Brunson

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has received U.S. senators Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen, two of the leaders of a bipartisan drive to block U.S. weapons sales to Turkey after the Turkish purchase of S-400 defence systems from Russia and imprisonment of U.S. citizen Pastor Andrew Brunson.

The meeting reportedly lasted one hour, and the senators likely used the opportunity to try to secure the release of the U.S. pastor.

Brunson was taken into custody in Oct. 2016 in İzmir, western Turkey, where he had lived for over 20 years, and accused of links to outlawed groups including the Gülen movement, a religious group accused of orchestrating that year’s coup attempt. The charges have been strongly rejected by Brunson himself, President Donald Trump, and other U.S. officials including Shaheen and Graham.

The purchase of the S-400 missile defence systems has worried Turkey’s allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, who fear it will harm the alliance member states’ defence interoperability and could allow Russia access to sensitive data.

Both issues were addressed in an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act taken to the senate this month, which called for sanctions and the suspension of sales of the new generation F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey until a report is completed on Turkey’s place in the F-35 production supply chain.

The first F-35 jet was handed over to Turkey in a rollout ceremony last week, though its delivery to Turkey will not take place until next year.