ISTANBUL – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the United States on Saturday that it risked losing a “strategic partner” due to demands made by the US government that Turkey release an American pastor who was arrested on terrorism charges.
“We only bow before God. It is wrong to try to punish Turkey for a priest who is here. I am addressing the US once again: it is a pity that you chose a pastor over your strategic partner in NATO. We will only do what justice demands,” Erdogan said during a rally in the northern province of Ordu.
Turkish authorities are seeking a 20-year prison sentence for US pastor Andrew Brunson, who was arrested two years ago and is accused of being linked to the PKK Kurdish guerrilla organization and to cleric Fetullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the US and whom Ankara blames for the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016.
Last week, the US government imposed economic sanctions against two Turkish ministers involved in Brunson’s arrest.
In addition, US President Donald Trump announced Friday he would increase tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum by up to 50 and 20 percent, respectively, at a time when Turkey’s lira is at an all-time low.
Ankara has ruled out releasing Brunson, although he was granted house arrest in July.
A delegation from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign affairs travelled this week to the US to attempt, to no avail, to reduce tensions between the two countries.
Regarding the situation of the Turkish currency, Erdogan once again called on his fellow citizens to back the lira, which depreciated 18 percent on Friday, by selling their dollars and euros.
“If you have dollars under your pillow, take them out. If you have euros, do the same. Take them immediately to the banks and convert them into liras. By doing this, we fight for our independence and our future,” Erdogan told his supporters.
For his part, the speaker of the Turkish parliament, Binali Yildirim, said Saturday via Twitter that US sanctions “are now turning into a global economic war.”
Turkey’s presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, also said Saturday that Washington risked losing Ankara as an ally if US policies against Turkey continued.