DOES THE RELEASE OF PASTOR BRUNSON SOLVE THE TENSIONS BETWEEN THE U.S AND TURKEY?
Turkey’s release of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson settles an issue that pushed ties between the countries to new lows, but it left unresolved tensions that continue to undermine relations between the two NATO allies. Brunson, 50, left Turkey late on October 12 and was expected back in the
U.S. on October 13. “He suffered greatly but we’re very appreciative to a lot of people,” Trump said October 12 in Cincinnati on his way to a campaign rally. “There was no deal made” for Brunson’s release, he said.
Trump’s frustration over Brunson’s continued detention became the dominant issue between the U.S. and Turkey in recent months. It prompted Trump to double metal tariffs on Turkey in August, fueling a weakening of the lira, and impose financial sanctions on key Erdogan aides involved in the pastor’s case. “If he hadn’t been released there were going to be new sanctions or additional sanctions and the tailspin would continue. So at least we’ve stopped the deterioration,” said Max Hoffman, associate director for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington.
The standoff between Trump and Erdogan, two leaders known for not wanting to back down publicly, had appeared to be at a stalemate. But one analyst suggested the economic cost to Turkey made the dispute untenable. “Given how fragile Turkey’s economy is, Erdogan knows this will reflect positively on the Turkish economy and the currency,” said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. “That could be the payoff avoiding further political and economic problems.”
Officials have hoped Brunson’s release could serve as a catalyst for improving ties between Turkey and the U.S.
Yet there are still significant grievances between the two countries. Erdogan hasn’t stepped back from plans to buy a Russian missile defense system, the S-400, that isn’t compatible with NATO requirements. That has fueled demands in the U.S. that planned deliveries of F-35 jets be put on hold even though portions of the Lockheed Martin
Co. fighter are being built in Turkey. In addition, at least three other people detained in Turkey have attracted Washington’s attention and fueled strains. They include NASA scientist Serkan Golge and three Turkish employees of the U.S. mission to Turkey. The U.S. says they’re innocent.
“While we are relieved by today’s decision on Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention, we remain concerned for the Turkish people,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a statement on October 12. “Turkey must continue to work to treat all of its citizens equally and with respect for their religious freedom.”