WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert repeatedly declined on Tuesday to confirm reports that a meeting would soon occur between US and Turkish officials with the aim of resolving tensions over Turkey’s continued detention of the US citizen, Pastor Andrew Brunson.
On Monday, the Turkish press reported that Ankara had reached a preliminary agreement with Washington to settle their dispute and that a delegation would visit the US shortly “to finalize the details.”
At the time those reports appeared, Turkey’s currency appeared to be in free-fall. It sunk to historic lows on Monday, before rising slightly on Tuesday.
However, when journalists asked her to confirm the Turkish media stories, Nauert declined to do so.
“I’ve seen reports” about the visit of a delegation, she told the State Department press corps, but “I can’t confirm any of that.”
“We just don’t have any meetings or anything to announce at this time,” she continued.
Nauert also denied that the US had come to an understanding with Turkey.
“If we had reached any type of agreement,” she said, “I think that you’d see Pastor Brunson back here at home, along with the other American citizens.”
In addition to Brunson, Turkey has jailed Serkan Golge, a NASA space scientist with dual US and Turkish citizenship, as well as two Turkish nationals who worked for the US diplomatic mission in Turkey.
Despite Nauert’s unwillingness to confirm an impending visit from a Turkish delegation, a well-informed Turkish source told Kurdistan 24 on Tuesday that there was, indeed, a Turkish delegation on its way to Washington and that meetings were, in fact, scheduled at the State Department.
Nauert’s response, thus, should be seen as a clear indication of the Trump administration’s continuing dissatisfaction with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his policies.
In addition to the detained individuals, the US and Turkey are at odds over two other major issues.
One is US support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has largely defeated the Islamic State (IS) in northeastern Syria and which now administers that area.
The US, and other Western officials, regularly describe SDF-administered territory as “some of the most peaceful and stable parts of Syria.” However, Turkey insists that the SDF’s Kurdish leadership, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), are terrorists, the Syrian wing of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK.)
In addition, Ankara has plans for weapons purchases that are highly problematic from a NATO perspective.
Turkey has signed a deal to purchase the S-400, an advanced Russian air defense system. At the same time, it also plans to purchase the newest US jet fighter, the F-35.
But Turkey’s growing ties with Russia, and, in particular, the presence of the S-400 on Turkish territory, could make the F-35 vulnerable to attack from that missile system if Turkey were to acquire the plane. It would, thus, represent a security nightmare for the US and other NATO countries.
When this crisis began, the Trump administration was fixed only on the release of Pastor Brunson. However, Erdogan apparently reneged on an understanding to release him, and on Tuesday, Nauert said that Turkey must release three more individuals: the other US citizen in Turkish custody, as well as the two Turkish nationals, working for the US diplomatic mission, when they were detained.
Editing by Nadia Riva