Officials in Ankara have made it clear that reprisals in kind against the sanctions imposed by the U.S. administration on Turkey's justice and interior ministers over a case related to American pastor Andrew Brunson are to come into effect very soon. Following Washington's step last week to impose sanctions on Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül, Ankara called on their counterparts in the U.S. to come to their senses as they deemed the decision illogical and Turkish officials have been trying to solve the matter through diplomatic channels. On Saturday, however, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Turkey has decided to freeze the assets of the U.S. attorney general and secretary of the interior.
"I am instructing my friends today. We will freeze assets, if there are any, of the U.S. justice and interior secretaries in Turkey," Erdoğan said, speaking at the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party's) women's branch congress in Ankara. No details were provided immediately on when the order by Erdoğan to impose sanctions on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will be implemented.
Speaking about the U.S. move to freeze the assets of Turkish justice and interior ministers, he said, "This is not logical."
The statement issued by the U.S. Treasury last week said Gül and Soylu were targeted due to their "leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson." The statement claimed these officials were responsible for "human rights abuses" carried out by Turkey - a key NATO ally of the U.S. "As a result of these actions, any property or interest in property of both Turkey's Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül and Turkey's Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them," the statement said. The Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 enables the U.S. government to target entities that it claims participate in human rights violations or corruption anywhere in the world. The act allows for travel bans, seizure of U.S. assets and prohibitions on conducting business with U.S. entities.
Ties between Washington and Ankara deteriorated to an unprecedented extent following the announcement of sanctions on the two ministers for their alleged role in the case of Brunson, who faces terrorism charges in Turkey.
Last week, officials from the government, opposition parties, the business world and nongovernmental organizations in the country criticized the U.S., urging them to not interfere in a judicial process. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met his U.S. counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Singapore. Çavuşoğlu and Pompeo had said they affirmed willingness to continue diplomatic efforts and to continue maintaining dialogue channels. Çavuşoğlu reiterated Saturday that Turkey will not bow to U.S. threats, saying issues between the two NATO allies over the detention of a terror-linked pastor can be resolved through dialogue. Speaking at an AK Party event in the southern province of Antalya, Çavuşoğlu said the use of threatening language does not help the U.S. in getting results from Turkey. "In my opinion, the U.S. itself needs a positive agenda. I believe we can overcome the current situation through compromise, diplomacy, negotiation and good faith, not through threatening language. An intensive process is ahead of us," the minister said.
Brunson, who was previously jailed for his links to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and the PKK, was released from prison on July 25 following an appeal by his lawyer, who objected to his extended detention in an earlier hearing, citing health problems that the 50-year-old defendant suffers from.
Brunson is a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades; he was indicted on charges of helping FETÖ, which is responsible for the failed 2016 coup, as well as supporting the PKK terrorist organization. Serving at the Resurrection Protestant Church in the western province of Izmir, Brunson was arrested in October 2016 and moved to house arrest on July 25.
With no steps taken back by the U.S. and also Washington threatening further sanctions, Erdoğan added the Turkish nation will not step back because of "threatening rhetoric and silly decisions" on sanctions.
"The latest step by the U.S. regarding the pastor Brunson issue in Izmir is especially ill-fitted for a strategic partner," he added.
The president also criticized reports on links with Brunson's case and the case of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the deputy general manager of Turkish state lender Halkbank, who was sentenced to 32 months in jail in the U.S. for evading Iran sanctions. "We did what the state of law requires [in the Brunson case]. It is not up to anyone to make Halkbank pay a price. Do not enter in a swap with us by arresting the deputy general manager of Halkbank, who went to the U.S. and came back six times," Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan also accused Washington of taking anti-Turkey steps to increase popularity in domestic politics.
"Turkey cannot be an item of U.S. domestic politics like it became in Europe. Repeating the faults of Europe will not earn the U.S. anything," Erdoğan said. He added they could solve problems with the U.S. by prioritizing their alliance based on mutual interests and their strategic partnership.
"The channels of diplomacy are working very intensely. I think that we will leave behind a major chunk of differences between us soon," he said, adding that they should sort out the issue rationally.
Turkey-U.S. relations have hit bottom rock mostly over Washington's support of the PKK terrorist group's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), and also Washington's failure to support Ankara in its fight against FETÖ, particularly after the failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Turkey has demanded Washington halt its military support of YPG terrorists given that they are organically linked with the PKK, a group listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S., Turkey and the European Union. In addition, the Turkish government has requested the extradition of U.S.-based FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen, which has not been realized despite Ankara supplying boxes of evidence to U.S. authorities showing the link between Gülen and the failed coup attempt.
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