Erdoğan: Turkey to freeze assets of 2 US Cabinet secretaries in retaliation for sanctions

Turkey will freeze the assets of two United States Cabinet secretaries in retaliation for Washington’s sanctions on Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Saturday.

“The latest step taken by the US in the case of Pastor Brunson in İzmir was not suitable for a strategic partner. The US has displayed serious disrespect with this step,” Erdoğan said in a speech at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) congress for its women’s organization in Ankara on Sunday.

“We had had shown patience until yesterday evening. Today I am instructing my colleagues that we will freeze the assets of the US secretaries of justice and interior in Turkey,” he added. “Those who think they can make Turkey take a step back by resorting to threatening language and absurd sanctions show that they do not know the Turkish nation.”

The US had announced sanctions on Turkey’s justice and interior ministers for their responsibility in the violation of imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson’s human rights.

Under the current US sanctions, any property, or interest in property, belonging to Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu within US jurisdiction will be blocked. Americans will be generally prohibited from doing business with them. Turkey had said it would retaliate for the sanctions in the same way.

Erdoğan also said, “Don’t try to bargain with us by arresting the deputy general manager of Halkbank, who went to the US and came back six times [before he was arrested by US authorities].”

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, former deputy CEO of Turkish state lender Halkbank, has been sentenced to 32 months in prison in the US for violating sanctions on Iran.

“Turkey cannot become a pawn in domestic US politics like it was in Europe. Repeating the mistakes that Europe made will not earn America anything,” Erdoğan claimed. He said they could solve problems with the US by prioritizing their alliance based on mutual interests and strategic partnership.

“The channels of diplomacy are working very intensely. I think we will soon leave behind a major part of the differences between us,” he said, adding that they should sort out the issue rationally. Erdoğan urged that if these political and judicial disputes extend to the economic dimension, they will be harmful for both countries.

Also on Saturday, the Ceyhan municipal council in Turkey’s southern province of Adana revoked the town twinning protocol with the Texas city of Frisco over the disputes between the two countries.

The Ceyhan Municipal Council unanimously voted to revoke the protocol signed in January 2015 between then-Ceyhan Mayor Alemdar Öztürk and then-Frisco Mayor Maher Maso. Councilor Eyüp İkidağ, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), tabled a motion to revoke the protocol citing the disputes between the US and Turkey.

“It is a very kind of our councilor Eyüp İkidağ to think of revoking the sister city decision as a response to the US,” said Ceyhan Deputy Mayor Ali Alper Boydak. “It is out of the question for us to be sisters or brothers with those who cooperate with terrorist organisations.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday that he was hopeful Americans detained in Turkey would be released “in the coming days”, according to a report by Reuters.

“I had a constructive conversation with my counterpart yesterday. I made clear that it is well past time that pastor Brunson be free and permitted to return to the United States and that the others being held by Turkey also similarly be freed as well,” Pompeo told reporters a day after a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Singapore. “I am hopeful that in the coming days that we will see that occur,” added Pompeo.

Asked if the issue threatened Turkey’s membership of NATO, Pompeo said, “Turkey is a NATO partner whom the United States has every intention of continuing to work cooperatively with.”

The US decision to impose sanctions came days after Turkey refused to free American Pastor Brunson, who was last week moved by a Turkish court from pretrial detention, in which he has been held since October 2016, to house arrest in İzmir but barred him from leaving the premises or the country.

Following the court ruling US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence threatened to impose “large sanctions” on Turkey if Brunson were not freed.

The Turkish prosecutor accuses Brunson, who runs a small church in İzmir, of activities on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, an accusation strongly denied by the movement.

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