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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Donald Trump: US won't concede anything for Turkey to release pastor

Ankara reportedly offered Mr Brunson's release in exchange for the US dropping an investigation into Turkish banks

US won't concede terms to Turkey, President Donald Trump tells Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House. Reuters 
US won't concede terms to Turkey, President Donald Trump tells Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House. Reuters 

President Donald Trump's administration has rejected Turkey's offer to condition the release of an American pastor on clearing a top Turkish bank of billions of dollars in US fines, media reported Monday.

Washington and Ankara are locked in a bitter feud over the nearly two-year jailing of Andrew Brunson over disputed terror charges, which has triggered a trade row and sent the lira into a tailspin.

In exchange for Brunson's release, and that of other US citizens as well as three Turkish nationals working for the US government, Turkey asked Washington to drop a probe into Halkbank, which is facing possible fines for helping Iran evade US sanctions.

But the US said that discussions regarding the fines and other areas of dispute between the two countries were off the table until Brunson was released, a White House official told the Wall Street Journal.

"A real NATO ally wouldn't have arrested Brunson in the first place," the unnamed official said.

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on July 25, 2018, US pastor Andrew Craig Brunson is escorted by Turkish plain clothes police officers to his house in Izmir. - President Donald Trump's administration has rejected Turkey's offer to condition the release of an American pastor on clearing a top Turkish bank of billions of dollars in US fines, media reported August 20, 2018. Washington and Ankara are locked in a bitter feud over the nearly two-year jailing of Andrew Brunson over disputed terror charges, which has triggered a trade row and sent the lira into a tailspin. (Photo by - / AFP)
US pastor Andrew Craig Brunson is escorted by Turkish plain clothes police officers to his house in Izmir. AFP

The reports emerged as Mr Trump told Reuters news agency that he had ruled out agreeing to any demands from Ankara over Mr Brunson’s release. He added that he was not concerned that his tough stance could end up hurting European and emerging market economies.

Mr Trump said he thought he had a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he helped persuade Israel to free a detained Turkish citizen. He had thought Erdogan would then release pastor Andrew Brunson, who denies Turkey's allegations that he was involved in a plot against Mr Erdogan two years ago.

"I think it's very sad what Turkey is doing. I think they're making a terrible mistake. There will be no concessions," he said.

Turkey had sought U.S. help to persuade the Israelis to release a Turkish woman who was being held in Israel, the senior official said. In exchange, Turkey would release Brunson and other Americans being held in Turkey.

Trump said he kept his side of the bargain.

"I got that person out for him. I expect him to let this very innocent and wonderful man and great father and great Christian out of Turkey," Trump said.

Israel, which confirmed that Trump had requested Ebru Ozkan’s release, deported her on July 15. Ankara has denied ever agreeing to free Mr Brunson in return.

Turkey has demanded that the United States hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric in the United States suspected in the coup plot against Erdogan, but the United States has baulked at this.

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Mr Trump has imposed tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminium in response to Mr Erdogan's refusal to free Brunson, raising concerns of economic damage in Europe and in emerging market economies.

"I'm not concerned at all. I’m not concerned. This is the proper thing to do," he said when asked about the potential damage to other economies.

A senior White House official said that Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan discussed Mr Brunson’s case when they met in Brussels for a NATO summit in mid-July.

The dispute threatens to intensify a split between the United States and Turkey, a key NATO ally that plans to buy Russian missiles.

Trump added: "I like Turkey. I like the people of Turkey very much. Until now I had a very good relationship as you know with the president. I got along with him great. I had a very good relationship. But it can’t be a one-way street. It’s no longer a one-way street for the United States."