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17 Aug, 2018 03:10

Trump asks pastor jailed in Turkey to be ‘great patriot hostage’ for US

Trump asks pastor jailed in Turkey to be ‘great patriot hostage’ for US

President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that the US will “pay nothing” for the release of a jailed American Pastor in Turkey, but would punish Ankara if he is not released.

“Turkey has taken advantage of the United States for many years,” Trump tweeted. “They are now holding our wonderful Christian Pastor, who I must now ask to represent our Country as a great patriot hostage. We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!”

Pastor Andrew Brunson, a US citizen who has resided in Turkey for over two decades, was arrested on terrorism and espionage charges as part of the Erdogan government’s probe into 2016’s failed military coup. He is facing up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

Trump has been angling for Brunson’s release for several weeks, as relations between Washington and Ankara have soured. While Trump prides himself on releasing US prisoners abroad without paying, like he did with three US citizens locked up in North Korea in May, Erdogan’s refusal to release the pastor, coupled with Trump’s refusal to pay for his release mean he remains a bargaining chip as the two populist leaders butt heads.

Both countries have been engaged in a trade war, ostensibly over Brunson. In reality, a number of issues have come between the two NATO allies, not least Turkey’s plan to purchase the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft weapons system. It has so incensed Washington that the 2019 NDAA – a bill that sets out the US military’s budget for the coming year – blocked the delivery of brand-new F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.

After a series of tit-for-tat tariff escalations, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned on Thursday that the US has new sanctions ready to go if Turkey carries on refusing to release Brunson. “We have more that we’re planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” Mnuchin said.

The row has put immense pressure on Turkey’s currency, the lira. After it plunged by 20 percent when Trump doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the country’s citizens to sell foreign money to bolster the plummeting currency, and declared that “they have their dollars, we have our people, our god.”

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