WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – In the first extended official US comments following Wednesday’s meetings between the US State Department and Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed that the crisis in US-Turkish relations persists.
“Yesterday, we had a wide-ranging conversation with Turkish government officials,” Nauert said in reply to a question from Kurdistan 24 as to what issues the delegation had discussed in Washington.
“We made it clear that Pastor Brunson needs to be returned home,” she continued, although “much of this we will not negotiate in public.”
Subsequent attempts by other journalists to elicit further details produced little more information.
“Can you tell us if you made any progress about the situation of Pastor Brunson?” Nauert was asked.
“I would say we would define progress as Pastor Brunson being brought home,” she responded.
Turkey’s Daily Sabah reported on Friday that the US had “demanded the immediate release of pastor Andrew Brunson before any progress could be made”—which the paper characterized as “blatant contempt for the Turkish judiciary and the rule of law.”
Brunson was arrested in October 2016, following Turkey’s abortive coup. An evangelical Protestant, Brunson was incongruously charged with being a member of the movement of the Muslim cleric, Fatih Gulen, which Ankara claims was behind the attempted coup.
Vice-President Mike Pence, addressing a Ministerial Conference to Advance Religious Freedom last month, denounced the Turkish charges against Brunson, affirming, “There is no credible evidence against him,” and demanding his immediate release.
The nine-member Turkish delegation, which also included officials from the country’s Justice and Finance Ministries, returned home on Thursday, and the Turkish currency resumed its slide.
“Turkey’s lira hit a new record low against the US dollar in early trade on Friday,” Reuters reported, “as concerns over a widening rift with the United States persisted after a Turkish delegation returned from talks in Washington with no apparent solutions to the crisis.”
The European Central Bank has “become concerned about the exposure” of several large European banks that have lent significant amounts of money to Turkey, The Financial Times reported on Friday.
Spain is Turkey’s largest European lender, followed by France and Italy.
In addition to Brunson, Turkey has detained three other individuals with ties to the US, and Washington has demanded their release too. The US also objects to Turkish plans to purchase the S-400, an advanced Russian air defense system, particularly as Ankara also plans to buy America’s newest fighter jet, the F-35.
And yet another dispute may be looming. As the US moved to impose sanctions on Iran—which it did on Monday—Turkey said repeatedly that it believed the measure was wrong and that it would not comply with such sanctions.
On Thursday, an envoy from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Turkey and met with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“We discussed issues on the common agenda” of Turkey and Iran, Cavusoglu tweeted.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to speak later today about the crisis.
“Unless [he] has a sudden change of heart and starts releasing the hostages, I think bilateral relations will continue on a crash course,” Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Nadia Riva