The Trump administration has unequivocally rejected the Turkey’s offer to free jailed American Christian evangelical preacher Andrew Brunson in exchange for leniency towards Turkish Bank Halkbank, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. The bank is under investigation by American authorities for allegedly violating US sanctions on Iran and if found guilty could face fines running in to billions of dollars.
In an attempt to resolve the bitter standoff with the US, Turkish diplomatic officials had offered to release Brunson but as a quid pro quo asked for the US to go slow on investigation against Halkbank, one of Turkey’s largest state lenders. Ankara also sought the extradition of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the deputy CEO of Halkbank who is currently serving 32 months in prison after he was convicted of taking part in a bank scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions.
Brunson, an evangelical pastor who hails from North Carolina was in Turkey for more than 20 years as part of missionary activities. He was arrested in December 2016 after being accused of playing a role in a failed coup attempt that July aimed at deposing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
US President Donald Trump escalated the American attempts to secure the release of the pastor by doubling the tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium resulting in lira plunging into free-fall. US has also warned that it would impose more sanctions unless Brunson was released. The sanctions have contributed to a steep fall in the Turkish lira, which dropped in value to 5.86 to the dollar last Friday.
Turkish President Erdogan has retaliated by raising tariffs on several American products, as several Turkish politicians joined the chorus to boycott American brands like Apple.
Evangelical Christians form a huge support base for the Republican party and securing Brunson’s release has been a huge priority for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
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