US sees release of Brunson as prerequisite for progress in relations with Turkey

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(L/R): U.S. Embassy Chargé d'Affaires Philip Kosnett, his wife Alison Kosnett and Brig. Gen. Randall Reed AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

The United States is seeking the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson and other detained US citizens in Turkey, along with jailed US consulate personnel, in order to make further progress in other areas of cooperation between Ankara and Washington, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.

US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Philip Kosnett said there was a “strong sense of unity in Congress between Republicans and Democrats” on the release of Brunson, who has been in prison for more than 20 months on terror charges.

“There is a similar sense of unity between Congress and the administration that in order for the relationship between Turkey and the US to progress, we need to resolve that status not only for Brunson but also for other American citizens and local Turkish employees of US missions who we feel are detained unjustly under the state of emergency,” Kosnett said in Ankara when asked about the outcome of a recent visit by two US senators to Ankara seeking the release of the cleric.

“Of course there are many other issues between the US and Turkey, but we think that resolving these cases will certainly improve the atmosphere and prospects for progress in other areas, just as the progress that the two governments had made in building new security arrangements in northern Syria, starting with Manbij, has helped to set a positive tone for the relationship more broadly,” Kosnett told reporters at an Independence Day reception in Ankara on July 2.

Two members of the US Senate, Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen, paid a previously undisclosed visit to the Turkish capital on June 29 to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a direct appeal for Brunson’s release.

Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, is a vocal member of the US Senate in favor of sanctioning Turkey over the detention of Brunson. She co-sponsored a recent amendment to a spending bill imposing a ban on the delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets to Turkey.

Shaheen and Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, also visited Brunson in prison in the Aliağa district of İzmir before they were received by Erdoğan.

Both governments are completely “committed to rebuilding their relationship by overcoming significant issues” that have come up in the Turkey-US relationship and are “committed to re-establishing the partnership that has served both countries for many decades,” according to Kosnett.

“Starting at the very top, from President [Donald] Trump and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, there are very strong signals that rebuilding the Turkish-American relationship is an important priority.”

The progress that Turkey and the US have made building new security arrangements in northern Syria, starting with Manbij, served for the establishment of “a positive tone for the relationship more broadly,” Kosnett said.

The “two governments are working closely to ensure security and governance in Manbij goes through a transition where local people are responsible for their security and locals will have the voice to determine their future,” he said.

Noting that the US and Turkish militaries are working closely on the security arrangements there, the diplomat declined to give details, saying only that “it is not helpful” when asked if the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) will start to withdraw on July 4, as the Turkish foreign minister had announced earlier.

“The YPG understands the situation and they have committed publicly and privately to cooperation in new arrangements. We will see what happens,” Kosnett said.

He also underlined that the deployment of Turkish and US forces in northern Syria is fundamentally to protect citizens of Turkey, the US and Syria against “all manifestations of terrorism.”

“There had been lots of rumors, nothing is official until the White House makes an announcement. I am confident President Trump wants to nominate a highly qualified individual as the ambassador to the Republic of Turkey,” he said when asked about recent reports that Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David M. Satterfield would be nominated for Turkey.

Kosnett, who assumed the duties of chargé d’affaires in 2017 upon the conclusion of Ambassador John Bass’ posting to Turkey, will soon leave Ankara and will be replaced by another deputy chief of mission since no official nomination has yet been made for the position of US ambassador to Turkey.

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