Turkey’s president said his government would not back down and was willing to “go its own way” if the United States imposes sanctions over an American pastor who is being tried on espionage and terror-related charges.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ended his silence late Saturday on the escalating diplomatic dispute involving Andrew Craig Brunson, 50. The evangelical pastor was arrested in December 2016 and jailed until he was released to home detention last week.
“They cannot make Turkey back down with sanctions,” Turkish media quoted Erdogan saying during an official visit to southern Africa.
“The U.S. should not forget that unless it changes its attitude, it will lose a strong and sincere partner like Turkey,” he warned.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced possible sanctions against Turkey, a crucial NATO ally, for its treatment of Brunson. The pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, has lived in Turkey for 23 years and led Izmir Resurrection Church.
Brunson was detained in the aftermath of a failed 2016 coup on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and espionage. He faces a prison sentence of up to 35 years if he is convicted on both counts at the end of his ongoing trial.
In an interview that aired Sunday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reiterated that there would be consequences if Erdogan’s government did not free Brunson and drop the charges.
“Transferring Pastor Andrew Brunson to home arrest is just not good enough, and the United States of America is prepared to bring sanctions against Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free,” Pence said in the interview on Fox’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Erdogan denied speculation that there had been an agreement to swap Brunson for Turkish citizens being held abroad, particularly 27-year-old Ebru Ozkan. Ozkan had been detained by Israel on terror-related charges, but was deported this month.
The Turkish leader previously linked Brunson’s return to the U.S. to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen. Ankara blames Gulen for the coup attempt, while the cleric denies involvement.
Erdogan also warned that Turkey would seek international arbitration if the United States refused to deliver F-35 fighter jets in retaliation.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Cinar Kiper