Erdogan warns US over sanctions threat

File photo showing US President Donald Trump (left) and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who warned that US sanctions will not force Ankara to "step back". PHOTO: REUTERS

ANKARA • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the United States in comments published yesterday that sanctions would not force Ankara to "step back" after US President Donald Trump threatened to punish Turkey if a US pastor was not freed.

"You cannot make Turkey take a step back with sanctions," Mr Erdogan said in his first comments since ties soured after Mr Trump threatened the measures last Thursday over Pastor Andrew Brunson.

"The US should not forget that it could lose a strong and sincere partner like Turkey if it does not change its attitude," he was quoted as saying by Hurriyet daily. "The change of attitude is Trump's problem, not mine," he told journalists during a visit to South Africa, calling the US threats "psychological warfare".

Ties between the Nato allies have worsened over the jailing of the pastor, who ran a Protestant church in the city of Izmir. He was held in a Turkish jail for almost two years on terror charges but was placed under house arrest on Wednesday. Mr Trump slammed the move, calling for his immediate release and warning that the US would impose "large sanctions on Turkey for (the) long-time detainment".

Ties had already been strained over multiple issues including Washington's support of a Syrian Kurdish militia which Turkey views as a terrorist group and the failure to extradite the Pennsylvania-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Mr Erdogan in September suggested Turkey could free Brunson if the US handed over Gulen - an offer brushed off by Washington. Ankara accuses Gulen of ordering the 2016 failed overthrow of Mr Erdogan, a claim he strongly denies.

The Washington Post on Friday reported a US-Turkey deal was made to secure the release of a Turkish woman imprisoned in Israel in exchange for Brunson's freedom. Ebru Ozkan, 27, had been held for over a month by Israel on charges of passing money to a "terrorist" group, but she returned to Turkey on July 16. The paper said the agreement was "personally sealed" by Mr Trump but fell apart when Brunson was transferred to house arrest.

Mr Erdogan addressed the claims, stressing that Turkey had "never made Pastor Brunson a bargaining chip". However, he said Ankara had asked for Washington's help in securing Ozkan's return. "But we didn't say: 'In return for this, we will give you Brunson'. Nothing like this was discussed," Mr Erdogan insisted.

Brunson risks up to 35 years in jail if found guilty in Turkey.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2018, with the headline Erdogan warns US over sanctions threat. Subscribe