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The United States imposed sanctions on two top officials in Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s Cabinet on August 1 in a new attempt to get NATO ally Turkey to turn over an American pastor accused of backing a coup attempt against Erdogan two years ago. The U.S. Treasury Department acted against Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu over the country’s imprisonme­nt of Andrew Brunson. The United States has blamed both for being involved in Brunson’s arrest and detention. Relations between the United States and Turkey have plummeted over Brunson, who was in custody for 21 months in a Turkish prison until he was transferre­d to house arrest last week.

White House spokeswoma­n Sarah Sanders told reporters: “We’ve seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong, and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust detention by the government of Turkey.” On July 31, a Turkish court rejected Brunson’s appeal to be released from house arrest during his trial on terrorism charges. Anticipati­on of the U.S. sanctions had already helped to send the Turkish lira to an all-time low against the dollar.

Brunson was accused of helping supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric whom Turkish authoritie­s say mastermind­ed the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan in which 250 people were killed. Turkey has waged a two-year effort to have Gulen extradited from the United States. Brunson was also charged with supporting outlawed PKK Kurdish militants. Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty of the charges, which he denies.

Erdogan sanctions U.S. officials in tit-for-tat row over pastor

President Erdogan on August 4 said Turkey would impose sanctions on two U.S. officials in retaliatio­n for a similar move by Washington in a row over the detention of an American pastor. But in his first comments on the dispute since Washington imposed the sanctions on August 1, Erdogan also appeared keen to ward off any further escalation by saying that neither side had an interest in a "lose-lose" scenario. "Today I will give our friends instructio­ns to freeze the assets in Turkey of the American justice and interior ministers, if they have any (such assets)," Erdogan said in a televised speech.

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