The Trump administration is considering a range of further sanctions against Turkey including limits on Turkish Airlines (THY), The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The administration is demanding the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was detained in Turkey in October 2016 on charges of affiliation with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the Gülen movement, which is claimed by the Turkish government to be behind a failed coup in July 2016, an allegation strongly denied by the movement.
The prolonged detention and trial of Brunson have led to a deterioration in Turkey-US relations, notably in recent weeks.
The US administration is also seeking the release of Serkan Gölge, a Turkish-American NASA scientist who has been imprisoned in Turkey for nearly a year, as well as three Turkish citizens who worked for the US mission in Turkey, the official said.
But the official said that if Brunson was not released by Wednesday, more sanctions could soon be put in place, according to the report.
“Certainly the president has a great deal of frustration on the fact that Pastor Brunson has not been released, as well as the fact that other US citizens and employees of diplomatic facilities have not been released,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday. “And we’re going to continue to call on Turkey to do the right thing and release those individuals.”
Additionally, during a meeting on Monday at the White House, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States asked for concessions for Turkish state-owned Halkbank and one of its executives, the NYT also reported, citing a person familiar with the conversation.
The bank is under investigation by the United States Treasury Department on suspicion of violating sanctions against Iran. One of the bank’s top executives, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, is serving time in a US prison after being convicted of charges related to helping orchestrate a billion-dollar scheme to evade the sanctions.
The Turks have sought leniency in the sanctions process and the deportation of Atilla to serve out his prison sentence in Turkey, the NYT said.
Moreover, the report said, citing American and European intelligence and counterterrorism officials, that the escalating tensions between Turkey and the US could threaten the cooperation against the Islamic State in in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria, especially with regard to recent plans for US and Turkish troops to conduct joint patrols near Manbij.
Several officials expressed concerns that Turkey might withhold information about suspected ISIL fighters and obscure missions that its security forces are conducting to prevent foreign fighters from entering Syria.
The report also included statements arguing that Turkey might be providing assistance to other jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda that are fighting against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.