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Release American pastor or face big sanctions, Trump threatens Turkey

Release American pastor or face big sanctions, Trump threatens Turkey
US President Donald Trump has lashed out at Turkey on Twitter, vowing to impose “large sanctions” over a detained American pastor, Andrew Brunson, held on espionage charges.

President Trump called on Ankara to immediately release the Christian leader, describing him as an “innocent man of faith” who “should be released immediately.” Brunson, 50, an evangelical Christian pastor originally from North Carolina, was released from prison on Wednesday after one and a half years. He has been put under house arrest, according to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency.

Last week on Twitter, Trump labeled the pastor’s detention “a total disgrace.”

The new threats did not go unnoticed in Ankara, it seems, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu taking to Twitter, issuing a quite harsh statement, likely aimed at Trump.

“No one dictates [to] Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception,” Cavusoglu said.

Ankara claims that the North Carolina pastor was helping the group behind the failed military coup of 2016. If found guilty, the pastor faces up to 35 years in jail. Brunson has denied all of the charges levied against him.

In 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the pastor could be freed in exchange for the extradition of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, another person that Turkey has accused of being behind the failed coup.

“They say: ‘Give us the pastor back.’ You have one pastor as well. Give him (Gulen) to us," Erdogan said, during a speech in September 2017. "Then we will try him and give him to you.

“The (pastor) we have is on trial. Yours is not – he is living in Pennsylvania. You can give him easily. You can give him right away.”

The arrest of Brunson is one of many issues Washington and Ankara have been rowing over. The two nations have recently clashed over buying Iranian oil, with Erdogan saying on Wednesday that “Iran is both our neighbor and our strategic partner,” and severing ties with Tehran on America’s whim goes against Turkey’s “understanding of sovereignty.” That isn’t all the US and Turkey have butted heads over this week – the US Congress took a step closer to an outright ban on sales of F-35 fighter jets to its NATO ally for its decision to buy Russian S-400s.

A military appropriations bill adopted by the House of Representatives on Thursday would stop any deliveries of the F-35 fighter jet to Turkey until the Pentagon and the State Department produce a report on the status of US-Turkish relations.

Section 1282 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2019 calls for the report to assess US “military and diplomatic presence” in Turkey, the potential Turkish purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia, and the possible impact of removing Turkey from the F-35 program.

Ankara’s decision to buy Russian S-400 anti-aircraft systems has contributed to growing tensions with the US, with Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen stating that Turkey’s “stated ambition” to buy S-400s “continues to give our government pause.” She also urged Turkey to put its alliance and membership in NATO first.

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