WASHINGTON DC - (Kurdistan 24) On Wednesday, White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that the US would impose sanctions on Turkey for its continued detention of US Pastor Andrew Brunson.
Sanders denounced the Turkish charges against the evangelical Protestant cleric, which include the extremely improbable allegations that Brunson had ties to a Turkish Muslim cleric, who lives in the US and whom Ankara claims was behind the 2016 coup attempt, as well as ties to the strongly secular, Kurdish nationalist, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“We’ve seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong,” Sanders said, “and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust detention by the government of Turkey.”
“At the President’s direction, the Department of Treasury is sanctioning Turkey’s Minister of Justice and Minister of Interior, both of whom played leading roles in the arrest and detention of Pastor Brunson,” Sanders told journalists.
“Any property, or interest in property, of both ministers within US jurisdiction is blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them,” she said, as she explained the consequences of the Treasury Department’s actions.
Indeed, on Wednesday morning, even before word of the impending sanctions began to appear in US media, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to earlier complaints from US officials—most notably President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence—about Brunson’s continued detention.
Apparently, Erdogan did not comprehend how serious the White House was. He claimed that Turkey had an independent judiciary, while he affirmed, “We will not give any credit to this type of threatening language,” which comes from an "evangelist, zionist mentality.”
News reports of the US sanctions then sent Turkey’s currency tumbling to historic lows, even before they were formally announced.
Wednesday’s measures are largely symbolic, as neither minister has assets in the US, according to Turkish media. However, the sanctions have been imposed against a backdrop of several other disputes, and Ankara’s first response, from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, was to threaten retaliation against the US in kind, raising the prospect that tensions will continue, and, perhaps, escalate.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his support for the sanctions in a statement provided to journalists on Wednesday, as he flew to East Asia.
“After numerous conversations between President Trump and President Erdogan and my conversations with Foreign Minister [Mevlut] Cavusoglu,” Pompeo said, “President Trump concluded that these sanctions are the appropriate action.”
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert further explained, “We are still pursuing a diplomatic approach. Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Cavusoglu plan to meet in Singapore on the margins of the ASEAN Regional Forum” later this week.
“Turkey knows our position well,” she continued. “Pastor Brunson must be released from house arrest and brought back home. This has gone on for far too long.”
Nauert presaged today’s action yesterday, in response to a question from Kurdistan 24, about whether sanctions were a real possibility, given the lack of progress in resolving disputes with Turkey, particularly over the continued detention of Pastor Brunson.
Nauert responded by referencing Pence’s strong words last week at the State Department’s Ministerial conference on Advancing Religious Freedom, in which he affirmed, “If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey.”
Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish lawmaker and now senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, suggested to Kurdistan 24 that the “biggest impact” of the US sanctions “will be on Turkey’s economy, which is on the verge of a meltdown.”
Nonetheless, Erdemir expects that Erdogan will continue to adopt a defiant stance.
He “will use this crisis to ramp up anti-American and nationalist sentiments in the country and consolidate his rule further,” the former Turkish parliamentarian predicted.
“The issue at hand is larger than Pastor Brunson,” Erdemir said. “Unless Turkey’s NATO allies come up with a concerted transatlantic strategy to deal with Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy, Ankara will continue to drift away from the Western alliance and values."