US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that “the clock had run” out for the Turkish government’s imprisonment of Americans, including an evangelical pastor whose case has been a sore point between Ankara and Washington and that it is time to release them, The Washington Post reported.
Speaking to reporters aboard his plane en route to Singapore from Malaysia, Pompeo said he planned to raise the matter during a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on the sidelines of a conference of 27 Asian nations.
Pompeo’s three-day trip to Asia, including a stop at the ministerial meeting in Singapore of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is part of a US effort to boost trade ties with the region, despite withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
Pompeo met with Çavuşoğlu immediately after arriving from Malaysia. A State Department description of their conversation said only that they addressed a number of issues during a “constructive” conversation.
The State Department has demanded that Turkey release a number of American detainees, including Andrew Brunson, a pastor who has been detained for almost two years on charges of “terrorism” and “espionage,” and Serkan Gölge, a Turkish American NASA scientist convicted of membership in a “terrorist organization,” as well as three locally hired employees of US diplomatic missions in Turkey. All were taken into custody in a crackdown after a failed military coup attempt in 2016.
“Brunson needs to come home,” Pompeo said he would tell Çavuşoğlu. “As do all the Americans that are being held by the Turkish government. It’s pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time.
“These are innocent people,” he added. “Pastor Brunson is an innocent pastor, and they need to let him return to the United States, and they need to let our locally employed folks — everyone needs to be let out. That’s the message. We are going to work to see if we can find a way forward — I am hopeful.”
Pompeo said the Turkish government is aware that US patience with Turkey over the Brunson case is growing thin.
“The Turks were well on notice that the clock had run and that it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned,” he said. “And I hope they’ll see this for what it is, a demonstration that we’re very serious. We consider this one of the many issues that we have with the Turks.”
After their meeting, Çavuşoğlu told Turkish television that he had reiterated Turkey’s message that “threatening language and sanctions do not achieve anything” but still described the meeting as “constructive.”
“There might be problems between our countries, and there can also be discord. However, Turkey always wants to resolve these issues by means of diplomacy, dialogue and mutual understanding,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters after the meeting.
“Of course, we can’t expect to solve all these issues in one meeting,” he added.