WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) – Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister met with the US Deputy Secretary of State on Wednesday, but all indications are that Ankara did not succeed in easing the considerable tensions with Washington that have arisen since July 25 when a Turkish court failed to free US Pastor Andrew Brunson, instead putting him under house arrest.
Senior Turkish and US diplomats held a 45-minute meeting after which State Department Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, released a brief statement consisting only of two sentences.
“Today, Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan met with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister H.E. Ambassador Sedat Onal,” her statement read. “The two discussed a range of bilateral matters including Pastor Brunson.”
Onal, who led a nine-member delegation that also included officials from Turkey’s Justice and Finance Ministries, also met with Treasury Department officials.
However, Onal did not convey what the Trump administration expects to hear: a pledge to release Brunson, who has been detained since October 2016, when he was arrested and charged with supporting the abortive coup in Ankara several months before.
The US irritation at Turkey is so great that on Tuesday, even after the meeting had been set and Ankara had announced it, Nauert declined to confirm it as journalists at a regularly scheduled press briefing pressed her to do so.
“I’ve seen reports about that,” she said. “I can’t confirm any of that. We just don’t have any meetings or anything to announce at this time.”
Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and currently Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, attributed the hastily scheduled meeting to the rapid drop in the value of Turkey’s currency, triggered by the US imposition of sanctions on the Justice and Interior Ministers on August 1 in response to Brunson’s continued detention.
Wednesday’s meeting had “more to do with Ankara’s urgent need to respond to the meltdown in the Turkish markets,” than anything else, Erdemir told Kurdistan 24.
On Tuesday, the Turkish government put out reports that it was close to resolving the crisis with the US, which “succeeded in slowing down the devaluation of the Turkish lira,” he said.
However, the “brief State Department readout” that followed the meeting, Erdemir suggested, “makes clear that the two sides still have a long way to go before resolving their lengthy list of issues.”
Those issues include the US partnership with Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State, as well as Turkey’s plans to purchase an advanced Russian-made air defense system, the S-400, along with the latest US fighter jet, the F-35. The presence of the two weapons systems in one country would increase the F-35’s vulnerability to Russian attack, as Moscow could gain a significant amount of information about the performance characteristics of the US jet from the operation of its air defense system.
Erdemir suggested that Erdogan had it within his powers to ameliorate the strains in relations with the US and on the Turkish economy “by taking a U-turn from his hostage diplomacy” and releasing the imprisoned Americans.
However, he appears “too invested in his self-defeating tactics,” Erdemir concluded, “and continues to dig both himself and the Turkish economy into a deeper hole.”
In addition to Brunson, Turkey has detained another US citizen, a NASA space scientist with dual US and Turkish citizenship, as well as three Turkish employees of the US diplomatic mission there.
The failure to reach an understanding on the release of Brunson and the four other individuals “makes it more likely that the Trump administration will take new punitive steps against Turkey, such as imposing sanctions on other Turkish leaders,” the Wall Street Journal reported late on Wednesday, citing anonymous US officials.
Editing by Nadia Riva