By Lukas Mikelionis, ,
Published August 20, 2018
The Trump administration rebuffed Turkey’s offer to release detained American pastor Andrew Brunson if the U.S. halts the investigation into Turkish bank Halkbank, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
The Turkish government agreed to drop terrorism charges against the pastor in exchange of the U.S. government dropping fines totaling billions of dollars against the bank. A senior White House official said the offer was rejected.
“A real NATO ally wouldn’t have arrested Brunson in the first place,” the official told the Journal.
Brunson has been detained in Turkey since December 2016 on espionage and terror-related charges after being accused of helping a group that allegedly coordinated the failed July 2016 military coup in the country. Both Brunson and the U.S. vehemently deny the accusations.
The White House has been clashing with Turkey and pressuring Ankara to release the pastor. The administration sanctioned Turkey's justice and interior ministers last month and doubled tariffs on steel and aluminum earlier this month in a bid to get Turkey to release the pastor.
“I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminum will now be 20% and Steel 50%,” Trump tweeted earlier this month. “Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”
The standoff between Turkey and the U.S. led to steep economic decline in Turkey. The Turkish lira, tumbled from 4.7 to the dollar to a depleted 6.4 to the dollar, for the first time in history breaking the 6 mark.
Trump pressed the Turkish government again on Thursday, saying the U.S. won’t pay anything for the release of the pastor.
“Turkey has taken advantage of the United States for many years. They are now holding our wonderful Christian Pastor, who I must now ask to represent our Country as a great patriot hostage. We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!” Trump tweeted on Thursday.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also pressed the Turkish government, saying the sanctions on Turkish officials mean the White House is serious about the immediate release of Brunson and others.
“The Turks were on notice that the clock had run out and it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned and I hope they'll see this for what it is: a demonstration that we're very serious,” he said. “Brunson needs to come home as do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government.”
“Pretty straightforward. They've been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people,” he added, referring to several other detained local employees of the U.S. diplomatic missions in the Turkey.
Fox News’ Hollie McKay and The Associated Press contributed to this report.