The American Charge d’Affaires in Ankara has said that Turkey’s continued detention of pastor Andrew Brunson on spying and terrorism-related charges is impeding US-Turkish relations.
Philip Kosnett said there is a “strong sense of unity in Congress between Republicans and Democrats” on the need for Brunson to be released and “a similar sense of unity between Congress and the administration that in order for the relationship between Turkey and the US to progress, we need to resolve that status not only for Brunson but also for other American citizens and local Turkish employees of US missions who we feel are detained unjustly under the state of emergency”.
According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Kosnett said that resolving those cases would improve “prospects for progress” in other areas of co-operation, such as security in northern Syria. He was speaking to reporters yesterday as it emerged that two senators travelled to Turkey last week to lobby Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the release of Pastor Brunson, whom they visited in prison.
Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen met President Erdoğan in Ankara last Friday (29 June) after visiting Pastor Brunson in prison in the Aliağa district of the western city of Izmir earlier that day, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.
Following their previously undisclosed trip, Shaheen told the New Hampshire Union Leader: “Pastor Brunson has been unjustly imprisoned and kept away from his family for well over one year. The opportunity to see him and his wife, Norine, and to appeal directly to President Erdogan, were my main objectives on this trip.
“Any time an American is wrongfully detained anywhere by a foreign government, it is our country’s duty to do everything we can to bring him or her home.”
Shaheen, the senior senator from New Hampshire, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees. She has been outspoken in calling for the US to sanction Turkey over the detention of Pastor Brunson, who has been behind bars for more than 20 months. Shaheen and Republican Senator Thom Tillis secured an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act that bars Turkey from buying F-35 fighter jets, because of its continued detention of Brunson.
“I am confident that the Turkish President understands this, and I appreciated the opportunity to raise my concerns. The US-Turkey relationship is of strategic importance to both countries,” Shaheen added.
The Turkish presidency did not issue a statement after the meeting.
The senators’ visit took place 10 days before Erdogan’s scheduled meeting with US President Donald Trump on the margins of a NATO summit in Brussels, Hurriyet noted.
Brunson’s third hearing is set for 18 July. Prosecutors have accused Brunson, pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, of having ties with supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric Turkey has demanded be extradited by the US in exchange for Brunson, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and are seeking a 35-year sentence. He denies all the charges.
Meanwhile, a leading Turkish commentator wrote that “many” diplomats in Ankara expect his imminent release and deportation. In a column for Hurriyet, Serkan Demirtas suggested that the political fall-out of Brunson’s continued detention in Turkey was proving too costly.
“Brunson, who has been in jail since late 2016, seems to be much too costly for Turkey, and his continued detention would further complicate the situation. That is why many diplomats in Ankara expect his potential release followed by his deportation, pending trial on the July 18 hearing,” he wrote.
“Of course, it is impossible to foresee what the court’s decision will be, but his release would sure help the ongoing reconciliation process between Turkey and the US.”