U.S. Rejects Turkey’s Offer for American Pastor’s Release

The White House has rejected an offer by Turkey to release the imprisoned American pastor in exchange for a relief in penalties imposed on Turkish banks by the United States.

The Trump administration told the Turkish government that until pastor Andrew Brunson was released no other issue would be discussed. His jailing has resulted in the worst crisis between the two countries and consequently in the staggering drop of the Turkish lira. The U.S. could also move to impose another set of fines against Ankara by the end of this week, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Brunson, as well as several other U.S. citizens, were arrested on charges of terrorism and the United States is adamant that their release must precede any penalties relief on its side. Turkey has agreed to do so if the U.S. drops an investigation into Halkbank, which reportedly violated U.S. sanctions on Iran and is facing a major fine as a result.

“A real NATO ally wouldn’t have arrested Brunson in the first place,” a senior White House official said.

The first batch of U.S. sanctions was imposed earlier this month on two top Turkish officials, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said even tougher steps could be taken in the future. Ankara denies the allegations against Halkbank, calling the groundless and based on fake documents.

Last week, President Donald Trump similarly called the charges against Brunson “phony,” vowing that the U.S. won’t “take it sitting down.” The pastor has been held in Turkey for almost two years on charges of helping to plot a coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

His appeal to be released from house arrest and allowed to travel abroad was rejected on Friday, worsening U.S.-Turkish relations even further. President Trump immediately reacted, warning in a tweet that the United States will retaliate with additional fines.

“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!”

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