US Secretary of State Pompeo, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu meet as tensions grow over detained pastor

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Acting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gesture during a NATO Summit, in central Brussels, on July 11, 2018.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Acting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gesture during a NATO Summit, in central Brussels, on July 11, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (AFP) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday (Aug 3) in an attempt to stave off a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Ankara over the detention of an American pastor in Turkey.

The United States is demanding the release of Andrew Brunson, who led a Protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, after he was placed under house arrest last week following nearly two years in jail on charges of espionage and supporting terror groups.

The meeting came days after Washington hit two top Turkish officials with sanctions over Brunson's detention, prompting Ankara to threaten reciprocal measures.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Mr Pompeo and Mr Cavusoglu had a "constructive conversation" on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Singapore.

"They spoke about a number of issues... They agreed to continue to try to resolve the issues between our two countries," she said.

Brunson, whose trial began in the spring, faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

The State Department has said it continues to favour a diplomatic approach, but Ms Nauert told reporters earlier this week "this has gone on for too long", referring to Brunson's detention.

Mr Pompeo and Mr Cavusoglu spoke by phone on Wednesday as the US announced sanctions on Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. The US claims both men played a major role in the arrest and detention of the pastor.

President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and Mr Pompeo have made Brunson's release a priority.

His detention has fuelled a bitter diplomatic feud between Turkey and the US, whose relations have already deteriorated in recent months over the Syrian conflict.

The standoff appears to be one of the most serious crises between the two Nato allies in modern history, along with the rows over the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

Brunson was initially detained in October 2016 during Turkey's crackdown following an attempted putsch.

He stands accused of carrying out activities on behalf of two organisations Turkey considers terror groups.

One is led by the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says was behind the failed coup, while the other is the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The pastor denies the charges and his defence team argues the case is built on questionable witness statements. His next hearing is set for Oct 12.