Turkey seeks to downplay U.S. crisis over pastor

Turkey sought to downplay a crisis with the United States over the detainment and trial of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, likening their relations to a long-term married couple,  Sabah newspaper reported on Friday.

Speaking to NTV news channel on Friday, Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his minister in charge of the economy, said even people married for 40 years couldn’t agree on everything.

“Sometimes they argue, then they make up,” he said. “We have to be ready for every condition… Today there is a really constructive process going on.”

U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers earlier this week for their role in the arrest and detention of Brunson, who Turkish prosecutors accuse of terrorism. The country’s justice and interior ministers are barred from entering the United States and any assets they have there will be frozen. Turkey’s lira hit a record low below 5 per dollar on the news.

Albayrak said relations between the United States and Turkey will never be broken off. He referred to the fact that Trump is even speaking with North Korea.

The minister’s words were in stark contrast to those of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said earlier on Friday that the “clock had run” out for Turkey and called once again for Brunson’s immediate release.

All Americans in Turkish custody need to be set free, including Brunson and three local consular workers, Pompeo said on his plane en-route to Singapore, according to the Washington Post. He later met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The State Department described the talks as “constructive”.

Brunson and other Americans in custody, who also include a NASA scientist, are accused of ties to the Fethullah Gulen movement, which Turkey blames for masterminding a failed military coup in July 2016 that killed more than 200 people. Last month, a court ruled that Brunson be released from jail on health grounds and be put under house arrest, a step that proved insufficient for Trump adminstration.

Prosecutors’ investigations of Brunson have now widened to include his wife Norine, a retired CIA officer and an ex-U.S. special forces soldier, who works at a church near the home of Islamic preacher Fethullah

 in Pennsylvania, Sabah newspaper reported on Friday.

Trump’s decision to impose sanctions on Turkey comes less than 100 days before mid-term elections. Brunson’s detention has resounded strongly with U.S. evangelists, some 80 percent of whom voted in Trump as president.

The crisis with the United States exacerbates the economic problems of NATO ally Turkey. The lira has slumped more than 25 percent against the dollar this year. The country’s inflation rate of 15.9 percent is the highest in major emerging markets after Argentina’s.

Turkey needs foreign investment to keep the economy stable and to finance a current account deficit that has widened to 6.5 percent of gross domestic product. But worsening relations with the United States have contributed to a capital flight.

The sanctions, though limited in scope, may just be the start of measures against Erdoğan’s government. The U.S. Congress has called for a freeze on selling F-35 fighter jets to Ankara. The Treasury Department is also investigating a state-run Turkish bank for breaking U.S. sanctions on Iran. Fines could run into billions of dollars and threaten to completely destabilise the country’s economy.

Erdoğan’s disagreements with the United States don’t stop at the detention of its citizens. He has ordered S-400 missiles from Russia as he cosies up to President Vladimir Putin over Syria. Erdoğan also invaded the war-torn country in January to attack Kurdish fighters that have proven the most effective allies against Islamic State (ISIS).

Relations with NATO member Greece and with Israel are also at a low ebb. Turkey is sponsoring Islamic groups in Jerusalem, angering the Israeli government, while it is in a dispute with Greece over territorial rights in the Aegean Sea.

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