Trump says no concessions to Turkey for detained American pastor’s release

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US President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin from the Oval Office of the White House on January 28, 2017, in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN

US President Donald Trump on Monday ruled out agreeing to any demands from Turkey to gain the release of a detained American pastor and said he was not concerned that his tough stance could end up hurting European and emerging market economies.

Trump said in an exclusive interview with Reuters that he thought he had a deal with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan when he helped persuade Israel to free a detained Turkish citizen. He had thought Erdoğan would then release pastor Andrew Brunson, who denies Turkey’s allegations that he was involved in a plot against Erdoğan two years ago.

“I think it’s very sad what Turkey is doing. I think they’re making a terrible mistake. There will be no concessions,” he said.

Turkey has demanded that the United States hand over Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric in the United States accused by Erdoğan and his government of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, but the United States has balked at this.

Trump has imposed tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum in response to Erdoğan’s refusal to free Brunson, raising concerns of economic damage in Europe and in emerging market economies.

“I’m not concerned at all. I’m not concerned. This is the proper thing to do,” he said, when asked about the potential damage to other economies.

Trump said Erdoğan had wanted the Turkish citizen returned from Israel.

Trump and Erdoğan met in Brussels for a NATO summit in mid-July where they discussed Brunson’s case and what could be the way forward to release the pastor, a senior White House official said earlier.

Turkey had sought US help to persuade the Israelis to release a Turkish woman who was being held in Israel, the senior official said. In exchange Turkey would release Brunson and other Americans being held in Turkey.

Trump said he kept his side of the bargain.

“I got that person out for him. I expect him to let this very innocent and wonderful man and great father and great Christian out of Turkey,” Trump said.

The dispute threatens to intensify a split between the United States and Turkey, a key NATO ally that plans to buy a Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Israel, which confirmed that Trump had requested Ebru Özkan’s release, deported her on July 15.

Ankara has denied ever agreeing to free Brunson in return.

Trump added: “I like Turkey. I like the people of Turkey very much. Until now I had a very good relationship as you know with the president. I got along with him great. I had a very good relationship. But it can’t be a one-way street. It’s no longer a one-way street for the United States.”

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