Aug 14 2018

New sanctions "in days" unless Brunson released - White House

The United States has repeated its demand that Turkey release U.S. citizens and employees held in the country after Jeffrey Hovenier, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires at the embassy in Ankara, met with Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor facing charges in Turkey, and his wife, Norine Brunson.

Meanwhile, an anonymous White House source has told Reuters that unless swift progress is made in the matter, the United States is ready to press new sanctions on Turkey within days.

Since his arrest on terror charges in Oct. 2016, Brunson has become a central figure in a severe diplomatic rift between two NATO allies that has seen the United States impose sanctions on Turkey and send the lira plummeting, with no sign of willingness to cool tensions from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who described the situation as an “economic war.”

Turkey had been expected to release Brunson in July, but instead transferred him from prison to house arrest in late July. The move did not placate the United States, which is understood to have taken a firm stance demanding the release of all U.S. citizens and employees held in Turkey with no room for negotiation.

Hovenier’s statement echoed previous statements by U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, who has commented in several press briefings this month that the only development the United States would consider progress in healing the rift would be the release of all prisoners.

“We continue our call on Turkish authorities that with regard to this case as well as the case of the other unjustly detained Americans, and the Turkish national employees of the U.S. diplomatic mission, that their cases be resolved without delay and in a fair and transparent manner, that’s what my government is requesting,” said Hovenier.

The same sentiment was expressed in a separate statement to Reuters by a White House official, who asked to remain anonymous, on Tuesday evening.

“The administration is going to stay extremely firm on this. The president is 100 percent committed to bringing Pastor Brunson home and if we do not see actions in the next few days or a week there could be further actions taken,” Reuters quoted the official as saying.

The actions would likely take the form of a new round of sanctions, said the official, who reported "no progress" on the issue.

Later on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters of Trump's "frustration" at Turkey's continued imprisonment of the U.S. citizens and employees, and said calls on the topic would continue between the two presidents.

Abdulkadir Selvi, a Turkish journalist known for his links to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), wrote in an article published on Tuesday that Brunson’s release could easily be secured if documents showing him to have suffered mental health problems as a result of his imprisonment are presented to Turkish authorities.

Erdoğan, however, appeared to be in little mood to cool the tensions this week, calling for a boycott on U.S. electronic goods on Tuesday morning after yet another incendiary speech on Monday declaring Turkey to be “ready for war.”

Trump and Erdoğan must organise a face-to-face meeting as the only way to ensure the release of the prisoners and draw the countries back from a serious diplomatic and economic crisis, Turkey scholar Henri Barkey said in an article penned for Ahval.

“Trump relishes crisis diplomacy and such encounters because it shows him to be in control, managing problems on his own without the help of his bureaucracy and diverting attention from his daily domestic problems … Erdoğan, who is in a tight spot, such a high-level encounter would provide him with the cover to release the prisoners,” said Barkey.