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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Trump threatens Turkey with 'large sanctions' over detained pastor

Senate committee unanimously passed bill to restrict international loans to Ankara

Pastor Andrew Brunson arrives at his house in Izmir, Turkey where he is being held after release from prison. AP
Pastor Andrew Brunson arrives at his house in Izmir, Turkey where he is being held after release from prison. AP

The US has upped the pressure on Turkey to release American Pastor Andrew Brunson after he was transferred to house arrest earlier this week.

US President Donald Trump tweeted from Air Force One on Thursday, threatening the Turkish government with “large sanctions” if Mr Brunson is not released.

“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being,” he said. “This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”

Ahead of Mr Trump’s tweet, US Vice President Mike Pence – speaking at the State Department’s Religious Freedom conference – warned that if the pastor was not freed immediately “the United States of America will impose significant sanctions on Turkey.”

Turkish foreign minister Melvut Cavusoglu appeared defiant, responding to Mr Trump on Twitter that “No one dictates [to] Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception.”

Mr Bruson was arrested in Turkey in 2016 and is accused of espionage. After spending 21 months in jail, he was moved to house arrest on Wednesday due to “health problems” according to the Turkish news agency Anadolu. His next court hearing, however, is not until October, and the US administration could impose sanctions before that if his release is not imminent.

Pressure to speed up his return is mounting in Congress as well. Six days after it was introduced, the US Senate Foreign Relations committee voted unanimously to approve the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act (TIFA) bill. The bill “would restrict billions of dollars in international financial loans to Turkey.”

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Read more:

US senators threaten to block loans for Turkey over pastor detention

Trump tweets support for American pastor on trial in Turkey

Tillerson lands in Ankara in attempt to ease Turkey tensions

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In 2017, Turkey ranked second among all International Finance Corporation recipients with $927 million in new long-term commitments, and was the largest European Bank for Reconstruction and Development borrower in 2017, securing about $1.8 billion in new commitments.

The House of Representatives is expected to introduce a similar version of TIFA this week, in a combined effort to pass it into law in the coming months.

Bob Corker, the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations committee said while “Pastor Brunson’s transfer from prison to house arrest is a good first step”, his and other US citizens’ release is the ultimate goal.

His Democrat colleague Senator Bob Menedez, argued that “the Turkish government’s decision to move Pastor Brunson from prison to house arrest makes clear that the government has the agency to immediately, unconditionally release him.”

Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The National that while “the US-Turkey relationship is now clearly on the skids,” Mr Trump deserves credit, he argued, for criticising Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “malign policies”.

“Mr Trump has finally done it,” he said. As for other options that the US would consider against Turkey, Mr Cook said blocking the delivery of F-35 fighter jets and visa bans or targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act could be other areas of leverage.