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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Turkish court rejects appeal for Pastor Andrew Brunson's release

Turkish lira drops after decision on US citizen, which deepens stand-off between Ankara and Washington

The US and Turkey have exchanged tit-for-tat tariffs in an escalating attempt to induce Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan into giving up Andrew Brunson. AFP
The US and Turkey have exchanged tit-for-tat tariffs in an escalating attempt to induce Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan into giving up Andrew Brunson. AFP

A Turkish court on Friday rejected an appeal to release an American pastor at the centre of a diplomatic crisis with the US, just a day after Washington threatened more sanctions if his detention continued.

The court ruled that Andrew Brunson would remain under house arrest, his lawyer Cem Halavurt said, adding that he would appeal again in 15 days.

Turkey's Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said on Friday that Turkey would respond to any further punitive US action.

"We've already responded based on the World Trade Organisation rules and will continue to do so," Mr Pekcan was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

The dispute has contributed to a steep fall in the Turkish lira this year, with the currency hitting record lows last Friday after US President Donald Trump doubled tariffs on Turkish aluminium and steel. The lira had strengthened since then but dropped again immediately after Friday's court ruling, from 6.04 against the US dollar to 6.21.

The United States had warned Turkey on Thursday to expect more economic sanctions unless it handed over Mr Brunson, who has been held for two years on security-related charges.

US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin assured Mr Trump at a Cabinet meeting that sanctions were ready to be put in place if Mr Brunson was not freed.

“We have more that we are planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” Mr Mnuchin said during the meeting.

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Meanwhile, Mr Trump said that the United States “will pay nothing” to Turkey for the release of detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, who he called “a great patriot hostage”.

“We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!” Trump said on Twitter.

The United States and Turkey have exchanged tit-for-tat tariffs in an escalating attempt by Mr Trump to induce Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan into giving up Mr Brunson, who denies charges that he was involved in a coup attempt against Mr Erdogan two years ago.

“They have not proven to be a good friend,” Mr Trump said of Turkey during the Cabinet meeting. “They have a great Christian pastor there. He’s an innocent man.”

Mr Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, had issued a blunt warning to Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic when he met him on Monday at the White House, an administration official said on Thursday.

When Mr Kilic sought to tie conditions to Mr Brunson’s release, Mr Bolton waved them aside and said there would be no negotiations.

“Release Brunson,” Mr Bolton told him, according to the official, who declined to be named.

Turkey has sought to persuade the United States to spare Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank from a threatened fine for allegedly helping Iran evade US sanctions. Ankara also wanted Washington to hand over Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania and who Turkey suspects of plotting the coup against Mr Erdogan. Mr Gulen denies the allegations.

“They missed a big opportunity. This is very easy to resolve,” the administration official said. “They made a big mistake trying to tie this to other things.”

The dispute over Mr Brunson and other frictions between Washington and Ankara have been one reason the Turkish lira has plunged 40 percent this year. Investors also fret over Mr Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy.

The lira lost strength after Mr Mnuchin’s remarks.

Mr Trump, who has doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey, said the steel tariffs had kicked in and the aluminium tariffs would take effect soon.