Two U.S. senators who have sought to prevent Turkey from purchasing Russian S-400 systems and the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to the country visited President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara on Friday to request the release of the imprisoned U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson and discuss other U.S. concerns.
U.S. senators Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen held a closed-to-press meeting with Erdoğan at the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) headquarters in Ankara, which lasted about an hour.
In a series of tweets after the meeting, Graham said Turkey and the U.S. had many different views on a range of topics, which have caused tension between the two allies in the past year. However, he acknowledged the importance of having a strategic partnership with Turkey and said "failure is not an option" when it comes to bilateral relations.
Graham described their meeting with Erdoğan as "very good, respectful, and candid," and said they discussed Ankara's purchase of Russian missile defense systems and the delivery of Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.
Meanwhile, Shaheen said they had discussed the jailing of Pastor Brunson, and said Erdoğan was receptive of the senators' concerns.
On Sunday, Erdoğan won an absolute majority in the presidential election with 52.5 percent votes to be re-elected as president for another term.
On June 19, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which includes an amendment prohibiting sales to Turkey of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, citing the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia and detaining U.S. citizens as the reasons.
Along with Republican Sen. James Lankford and Sen. Thom Tillis, Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen submitted a draft bill last month to prevent the delivery of F-35 warplanes to Turkey. All three senators have also been closely following Pastor Brunson's trial in Turkey.
An indictment alleged that Brunson was aiding and abetting the putchist in the country. It appears that all three senators want to use this bill as leverage against the Turkish officials to facilitate Brunson's release. The bill also targets Turkey's S-400 deal.
Sen. Shaheen and Sen. Lankford, also previously acknowledged that they would pursue targeted sanctions against Turkish officials in the 2019 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs spending bill. The same senators dropped a similar attempt in March following State Department lobbying. However, because a Turkish court remanded Brunson last month, the senators brought this threat back on the agenda, expecting more leverage against Ankara.
Brunson has been held in prison since late 2016 following the July coup attempt in Turkey. An indictment claims that Brunson had been cooperating with individuals affiliated with the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which the Turkish government has designated as terrorist organization.