US Senators Lindsay Graham and Jeanne Shaheen met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara on Friday during which the detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson and other bilateral issues were discussed, according to tweets posted by the two legislators that sparked a backlash on Twitter.
“Very good, respectful, and candid meeting with President Erdogan. We have real differences, but far more in common. Turkey needs to be a strategic partner for the US in a win-win fashion. … We spoke candidly about Pastor Brunson and other friction points, including the purchase of Russian made S-400s and American made F-35s. However, when it comes to the US-Turkey relationship, failure is not an option,” Graham tweeted out, leading to a barrage of comments expressing disappointment with the senator, condemning Erdoğan and calling his rule a dictatorship.
“What do you have in common with a brutal dictator that supports extremism, kills the free media, oppresses minorities and jails journalists?” said one poster.
“I think you just listed them,” responded another.
Brunson, a Christian pastor who has lived in Turkey for more than 23 years and could be jailed for up to 35, denied terrorism and spying charges in a Turkish court last month. He has been in pre-trial detention since 2016.
“I’m in Turkey to help build a constructive dialogue with President Erdogan on the cases of Americans wrongfully arrested and other issues of mutual concern. President Erdogan was receptive to my and @LindseyGrahamSC’s concerns,” Shaheen tweeted after the meeting with the Turkish president.
Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, and Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, support sanctioning Turkey over the continued detention and trial of Brunson and Turkey’s procurement of an S-400 missile defense system from Russia.
The visit comes days after Erdoğan secured another five years in power in the June 24 elections and 10 days before a scheduled meeting with US President Donald Trump on the margins of a NATO summit in Brussels.
No statement was released by the Turkish presidency after the meeting.
Shaheen is known for her condemnation of the detention of Brunson and was successful in introducing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would remove Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program over its detention of the cleric.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since a failed coup in July 2016 as well as pursuing a crackdown on the free media and any kind of dissent.