Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country will not "make a step back" and that the US will lose a "strong and sincere ally" if President Trump imposes "large sanctions" as he threatened to do last week, if an American pastor detained in Turkey is not released, the Turkish press reported.
Speaking to the local media, Erdogan said "you can’t make Turkey take a step back with sanctions", and accused Trump of waging a "psychological war," the Daily Sabah reported.
Erdogan also said that the US "should not forget that it will lose a strong and sincere partner" if "the U.S. does not change its stance" regarding pastor Brunson. "Instead of respecting the ruling they are making this a matter of sanctioning Turkey."
As we reported last Wednesday, Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for over twenty years, is being held on charges of supporting the "shadow government" group allegedly led by exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gullen, 77, who Ankara says was behind the failed military coup in 2016 and has been demanding his extradition from the US for the past two years. The American pastor has maintained his innocence and faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty. While last week the Evangelical pastor from North Carolina was transferred to house arrest after being held in a Turkish prison for nearly two years, his trial on terror and espionage charges continues.
Brunson's fate has become the subject of calls from President Donald Trump and US officials for his release. After US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the fate of the American pastor with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Çavuşoglu on Saturday, Erdogan insisted that Brunson's release was never used in a possible prisoner swap deal with Washington.
Last Thursday, one day after Brunson’s custody was commuted from a prison term to house arrest, Trump threatened Ankara with sanctions. Vice President Mike Pence also echoed threats of "significant sanctions" against Turkey.
"The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
In response Çavuşoglu said that "we will never tolerate threats from anybody," before holding a phone conversation with Pompeo.
The drama over the fate of the US pastor escalated after US Congress banned the shipment of F-35 stealth fighter jets to Turkey amid objections over Turkey’s plans to buy S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia. Erdoğan's government said it was adamant on pushing ahead with the purchase of the American fighter jets, and the Turkish president said he would seek "justice by international arbitration" if the US fails to deliver the fighter jets.
Another key topic of disagreement between the US and Turkey is the fate of Iranian oil imports: Turkey, a long-time client of Tehran, has been resisting US pressure to stop importing Iranian crude which the State Department has demanded its allies do by November 4. Ankara believes that US foreign and economic policy decisions are not binding for Turkey, arguing that any Iranian sanctions must be conducted under the UN-mandated international law.