TENSIONS BETWEEN US AND TURKEY ARE UNLIKELY TO GO AWAY
President Donald Trump was last night due to welcome home the American pastor whose incarceration caused one of the lowest points in US-Turkey relations, but the impact of his release on the Nato allies’ troubled relationship remained to be seen.
Andrew Brunson, 50, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina, was freed on Friday despite being sentenced to more than three years on terrorism charges. Judges ruled that the two years he had already spent in jail or under house arrest was enough punishment.
The decision removed one of the key disputes between Ankara and Washington in recent years, but it remains unclear whether it will be enough to repair ties or restore the ailing Turkish economy, which was put under greater pressure by the affair.
Keeping Mr Brunson in detention raised the risk of further US retaliation and more damage to the Turkish economy, said Inan Demir, a senior economist at Nomura International.
“If Brunson is not released, the markets will start to price in further sanctions by the US,” Mr Demir told The
National before the court delivered its verdict. “And, as long as we don’t have much clarity on the US sanctions, the markets’ inclination will be to price in the more adverse scenario.”
Selim Sazak, an adjunct fellow at New York’s Century Foundation and an international relations doctoral candidate at Brown University, said: “Turkey’s problems are its own, they’re not of the US’s making.
“The US is not responsible for appointing the president’s son-in-law to head the finance ministry or for overseeing a runaway credit boom or for corruption. The Turkish economy faces multiple organ failure.”
Although the lira, which lost about 40 per cent of its value against the dollar this year, recovered by 3 per cent in the run up to the hearing, there was little change on Friday.
“We’re talking about an extra cherry on the cake,” Mr Sazak said. “But the problem’s not the cherries. It’s the cake itself that is falling apart.”
Arrested in October 2016, Mr Brunson’s case was highlighted by Mr Trump this summer.
In August, Washington imposed sanctions on two Turkish cabinet ministers and later doubled tariffs on steel and aluminium, sending the lira to a new low against the dollar.
The case also became a lightning rod for a host of disputes between the US and Turkey.
These include the US refusal to extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of masterminding a July 2016 coup attempt, and American support for Syrian-Kurdish fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a four-decade fight against Turkey.
Then there was the conviction and imprisonment of a Turkish bank executive for breaking US sanctions on Iran and Turkey’s deal with Russia to buy air defence missiles.
Turkey has jailed an unknown number of other US citizens, including Turkish-American Nasa scientist Serkan Golge and local consulate staff.
The US has indicated it will also push for their release.
Welcoming Mr Brunson’s release, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the US was still “deeply concerned about the continued detention of other United States citizens in Turkey”.
Refusing to clarify whether the sanctions on Turkish ministers would be lifted, she said: “The US and Turkey have a number of mutual concerns regarding regional security and we look forward to working together on these issues.”
The imprisonment of Americans has endangered Turkey’s acquisition of F-35 fighter jets. US senators specifically cited “wrongfully or unlawfully” held US citizens when proposing a bill to block the transfer of F-35s to Turkey this year.
In addition, the two countries are now embroiled in the case of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul nearly two weeks ago.
“It’s difficult to see what difference the Brunson case alone will make to the relationship between Turkey and the US,” said a political scientist at an Istanbul university.
Before Mr Brunson’s arrival at the White House, Mr Trump tweeted his thanks to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “for his help”, although the Turkish leader has repeatedly said that the case was a matter for the judiciary and out of his hands.
Mr Trump denied reports that the pastor’s freedom was due to an arrangement between Washington and Ankara.
And despite Mr Trump saying that the result would be “good, perhaps great” ties with Turkey, Mr Sazak said the fraught US-Turkey relationship remained unresolved.
“Unless you solve the Kurdish problem and the Gulen problem, there will be no solution,” he said.
US pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife Norrine arrive at the airport in Izmir, Turkey on Friday to fly to the US