Trump Warns Turkey: Free Pastor Brunson or Face 'Large Sanctions'

Trump Warns Turkey: Free Pastor Brunson or Face 'Large Sanctions'

Troy Powers
July 27, 2018

President Trump vowed Thursday to slap Turkey with sanctions for detaining a USA pastor on terror and espionage charges - demanding strongman Recep Erdoğan release him immediately.

President Trump says the United States will impose sanctions on North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey over a detained American pastor held on terror and espionage charges.

This comes just hours after President Trump said Brunson is "suffering greatly" and threatened imposing sanctions on its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally.

Turkey's Vice President Fuat Oktay denounces US' sanctions threat on Ankara over pastor Andrew Brunson, who is under detention on terror-related charges, saying American partners must respect the decisions of the Turkish judiciary.

Trump's threat came moments after Vice President Pence said the administration would impose sanctions on Turkey if Brunson was not released.

The announcement that Brunson would be moved from prison to house arrest comes as the State Department hosts a Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom.

"If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free", said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday at a religious freedom summit at the State Department.

Brunson worked in Turkey for 23 years as a pastor before he was detained more than a year ago for an alleged connection to a failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan in 2016. Pence said Erdogan should allow Brunson to return to the United States "now or be prepared to face the consequences".

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Trump said on Twitter last week that the pastor's detention was "a total disgrace".

A top Turkish official said that Cavusoglu and Pompeo spoke by telephone on Thursday about the escalating row.

Now, President Trump is further increasing pressure on Turkey to release the Christian minister, who has been accused of espionage without any evidence, warning in a tweet of sanctions. He announced additional aid for a region of Iraq previously held by the Islamic State group.

Brunson ran a Protestant church in the city of Izmir and was one of the hundreds of people swept up in arrests by Turkey following the coup attempt.

Erdogan has in the past linked Brunson's fate with that of the USA -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Brunson's move out of prison in a tweet Wednesday, calling it "long overdue news", but called for the Turkish government to "resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner".

The Trump administration has long highlighted Brunson's case, raising it with Turkish officials and in statements in the media. The crackdown has targeted journalists, activists and opposition figures. He told Al-Monitor, "I highly doubt that Washington would agree to swap Pastor Brunson with any convicted felon in the United States, especially with an individual guilty of conspiracy to evade Iran sanctions".

A Turkish court declined an offer from Brunson's lawyer at a recent hearing to release the pastor pending the conclusion of the trial. 'I forgive those who lie and bear false witness against me'.