President Donald Trump has said he felt personally let down by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over his refusal to release an American evangelical pastor after the US had helped get a Turkish citizen detained in Israel returned to Turkey.
“I’m disappointed in him,” Trump said Thursday in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News, after initially declining to comment because the episode was “too dear to my heart.”
“I got somebody back for him,” Trump said. “I’m very disappointed in him, but we’ll see how it all works out.”
Tensions between the US and Turkey have escalated in recent months over the detention of Andrew Brunson, a Christian evangelical pastor facing terrorism-related charges tied to a failed 2016 coup. The US slapped sanctions on two Turkish government ministers earlier this month, and Turkey responded by sanctioning two US Cabinet secretaries. When Trump doubled tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Turkey, Erdoğan retaliated with tariffs on alcohol, cars and tobacco and the threat of a boycott on American electronics.
The spat has deepened troubles for the already struggling Turkish economy, and helped drive a more than 40 percent decline in the lira this year.
Turkey has warned the US it may seek new alliances, and Russia is taking advantage of the opening. At the same time, Turkey says its relationship with Russia isn’t an alternative to relations with the US and European Union. While Turkey has been bound to the US by NATO, Trump has expressed frustration in recent months with the alliance and questioned its relevance.
Brunson’s detention comes on top of other irritants in the two countries’ relations, including Turkey’s long-running interest in purchasing Russia’s S-400 air defense system, the jailing of US consulate employees and support for Islamists.
Erdoğan, meanwhile, has fumed at the US’s backing of Kurdish rebels in Syria and refusal to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher living in Pennsylvania who Erdogan accuses of masterminding the abortive coup.
Gülen and the movement he inspired deny any involvement.