US official warns of more actions against Turkey if pastor Brunson not freed

The United States is warning that more economic pressure may be in store for Turkey if it refuses to release jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson, a White House official said on Tuesday, in a dispute that has further strained relations between the NATO allies, according to a report by Reuters.

The tough message emerged a day after White House National Security Adviser John Bolton met privately with Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç about Brunson’s case. Bolton warned him that the United States would not give any ground, a senior US official said.

The White House official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said “nothing has progressed” thus far on the Brunson case. “The administration is going to stay extremely firm on this. The president is 100 percent committed to bringing pastor Brunson home, and if we do not see actions in the next few days or a week there could be further actions taken,” the official said.

Further actions would likely take the form of economic sanctions, the official said, who added, “The pressure is going to keep up if we’re not seeing results.”

According to the White House, which is ratcheting up pressure on Ankara to free him after two years of detention, President Donald Trump is frustrated that Turkey has not released Brunson.

“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,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said at a briefing.

Relations between Turkey and the United States have been soured by Brunson’s detention, as well as diverging interests on Syria. Trump doubled tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum last week, contributing to a precipitous fall in the Turkish lira.

Reuters also reported that the United States is also considering a fine against Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank for allegedly helping Iran evade US sanctions. Earlier this month, the United States imposed sanctions on two top officials in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s cabinet in an attempt to get Turkey to turn over Brunson.

Brunson is accused of backing a coup attempt in Turkey two years ago, charges that he has denied. He is being tried on terrorism charges. Brunson has appealed again to a Turkish court to release him from house arrest and lift his travel ban, his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.

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