US rejects Turkey’s offer to release pastor
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s administration has rejected Turkey’s offer to condition the release of an American pastor on clearing a top Turkish bank of billions of dollars in US fines, media reported on Monday.
Washington and Ankara are locked in a bitter feud over the nearly two-year jailing of Andrew Brunson over disputed terror charges, which has triggered a trade row and sent the lira into a tailspin.
In exchange for Brunson’s release, and that of other US citizens as well as three Turkish nationals working for the US government, Turkey asked Washington to drop a probe into Halkbank, which is facing possible fines for helping Iran evade US sanctions.
But the US said that discussions regarding the fines and other areas of dispute between the two countries were off the table until Brunson was released, a White House official told the Wall Street Journal.
“A real NATO ally wouldn’t have arrested Brunson in the first place,” the unnamed official said.
Trump has said he had doubled the tariffs on aluminum and steel tariffs from Turkey, prompting Ankara to sharply hike tariffs on several US products.
A court has rejected another appeal to free Brunson and Turkey has threatened to respond in kind if Washington imposed further sanctions.
The lira has tumbled some 40 percent this year, hit by worries about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy and a worsening diplomatic rift with the US. The sell-off has spread to other emerging market currencies and global stocks in recent weeks.
Responding to the recent currency sell-off in stark religious and nationalist terms, Erdogan said an attack on Turkey’s economy was no different from a strike against its flag or the Islamic call to prayer.
In a pre-recorded address to mark the four-day Eid Al-Adha festival, a defiant Erdogan said the aim of the currency crisis was to bring “Turkey and its people to their knees.”
“The attack on our economy has absolutely no difference from attacks on our call to prayer and our flag. The goal is the same. The goal is to bring Turkey and the Turkish people to their knees — to take it prisoner,” Erdogan said in the televised address.
“Those who think they can make Turkey give in with the exchange rate will soon see that they are mistaken.”
Erdogan stopped short of directly naming any countries or institutions, but he has, in the past, blamed a shadowy “interest rate lobby,” Western ratings agencies and financiers.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities detained two men suspected of shooting at the US Embassy in Ankara.
Nobody was hurt in Monday’s attack, which President Erdogan’s spokesman condemned as an attempt “to create chaos.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it had increased security for the embassy and other US missions and employees in Turkey.
The assailants fired six bullets at an embassy security gate from a passing white vehicle around 5.30 a.m. local time (0230 GMT), three bullets hitting an iron door and a window, the Ankara governor’s office said.
The office issued another statement on Monday evening saying two men in their late 30s had been detained and a vehicle and pistol seized and that the men had confessed to the shooting.
It said both suspects had criminal records and their links were being investigated.
Video footage from broadcaster Haberturk showed police teams inspecting one of the entrances to the embassy and apparent damage caused by a gunshot could be seen in one window. It said empty cartridges were found at the scene.