Trump demands Turkey 'immediately' release U.S. pastor

Emre Tazegul  AP

Emre Tazegul AP

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMeadows threatens to force a vote on Rosenstein impeachment Republican feels "victimized" by Twitter "shadow banning" GOP senators surprised to attend Trump's tariffs announcement MORE on Thursday threatened to impose economic sanctions on Turkey over its refusal to release an American pastor that has been detained in the country for more than year.

NBC spoke with Brunson's lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, who says Brunson is not allowed to leave his house under any condition other than to go to interviews or court hearings.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was blindsided by threats against North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey made Thursday by President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, two State Department sources told NBC News.

"He is suffering greatly".

However, President Trump demanded his immediate release, or Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, would face "large sanctions".

"The US administration, which has taken no steps whatsoever against the terrorist group FETO until today, must understand that it can not reach desired results by threatening Turkey over an issue, which falls within the jurisdiction of the country's independent judiciary", Kalin said in a statement. "We will never tolerate threats from anybody".

"No one dictates Turkey".

The remarks follow similar efforts by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the State Department to highlight anti-government dissent in Iran.

The Trump administration has made defending Christians overseas a tenet of its foreign policy.

Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir Turkey
ReutersU.S. pastor Andrew Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir Turkey

US President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence have threatened Turkey with sanctions if it fails to release jailed pastor Andrew Brunson.

Pence welcomed Turkey's decision to place Brunson under house arrest, but said it was "not good enough". The Turkish government released Brunson from prison this week, but has forced him to stay under house arrest.

Anger over Turkey in the United States has branched across partisan lines, with lawmakers on the left and right increasingly critical of Ankara and seeking to impose sanctions, which could include being left out of the F-35 military plane program. "If he does not, he will face sanctions".

If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison for "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member" and an additional 20 years for "espionage". Turkey, however, has a different description for Andrew Brunson: They say he's a spy and an abettor of terrorists who is working to overthrow the government.

Mehmet Haka Atilla was convicted after well-connected Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, arrested in the USA in 2016, became a government witness and admitted involvement in a multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme to subvert United States economic sanctions against Iran.

The measure ended on July 18.

The Turkish lira strengthened to 4.8325 against the dollar from 4.8599 before the report.

"I find it hard to see how this relationship moves forward. if the Turkish government continues to detain Pastor Brunson as well as locally employed staff, journalists, and civil servants", Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said.

Trump's threat comes as the Turkish lira has lost one-fifth of its value this year over concerns about the central bank's ability to rein in double-digit inflation.

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