Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rebuffed remarks by US President Donald Trump after he threatened the country with sanctions unless Ankara releases a detained American pastor, saying Turkey would not retreat in the face of pressure and comparing the situation to US-imposed sanctions on Iran, the Cumhuriyet daily reported.
“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson,” Trump tweeted on Thursday.
Brunson was transferred to house arrest on Wednesday after being detained in the Aegean province of İzmir in December 2016. He was charged with spying for “terrorist groups.”
“We have never made Pastor Brunson a subject of bargaining. You cannot force Turkey to retreat with sanctions,” Erdoğan told reporters at a stop in Zambia during an African tour, recalling six US senators’ bipartisan legislation to restrict loans to Turkey from international financial institutions “until the Turkish government ends the unjust detention of US citizens.”
Earlier Thursday, US Vice President Mike Pence in a tweet also threatened to impose “significant sanctions on Turkey until this innocent man of faith is free.”
Calling Washington’s threat of sanctions “psychological warfare,” Erdoğan said: “They have to know: We are not dependent on America. We will continue with our people in solidarity as we have done up until now. The US should not forget that it will lose a strong and sincere partner if they do not change their attitude.”
Erdoğan brought to mind the US sanctions targeting Iran. “What happened? Did Iran fail?” he asked.
Regarding a US Congress defense bill at that would block the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey unless Ankara releases jailed US citizens and employees and cancels its purchase of an S-400 air defense system from Russia, President Erdoğan said Turkey would resort to international arbitration if the sale of F-35 jets to Ankara is blocked.
Concerning the release of Turkish citizen Ebru Özkan from Israel, Erdoğan confirmed that Ankara sought Washington’s help through its foreign minister. The Turkish president denied the claims that it was a part of bargaining for Brunson: “We did not say we would hand Brunson over to you in return.”
Israel deported Özkan on July 15, a week after indicting her for smuggling money and goods to the Palestinian Islamist militant group while visiting as a tourist — charges her lawyer denied and which angered Turkey.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that Trump had asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a July 14 phone call to let Özkan go in what the White House envisaged as an indirect trade for Pastor Brunson.
Turkish President Erdoğan in September had called on Washington to swap Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in the US who Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government accuse of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.
Prosecutors accuse Brunson of activities on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as a group inspired by Gülen. The Gülen movement strongly denies any involvement in the abortive putsch.