The new Turkey
Turkey - US relations April 2018


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28 April 2018 - Sanctions season is around the corner for Turkey


  • April 28 2018


“Apply the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, or other relevant targeted tools, to deny U.S. visas to and block the U.S. assets of specific officials and agencies identified as responsible for violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief.” 

The above suggestion was penned as a policy recommendation for the Trump administration by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in its 2018 annual report, which was released this week. The commission also asserted that the Turkish government must be pressed at the highest levels to free Pastor Andrew Brunson from detention immediately and unconditionally.

U.S. President Donald Trump along with Vice President Mike Pence have indeed been vigorously pressing the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government for the release of Brunson since they took office. There has been no single conversation between Trump and Erdoğan where the U.S. President did not spell Brunson’s name. Furthermore, Trump did not hesitate to throw a biting tweet on April 16 when Pastor Brunson appeared in front of the court the first time, 16 months after his detention. Referring to the indictment against Brunson, which accuses him of “military and political espionage,” Trump tweeted, “I am more a spy than he is.”

Recent history has proven that it is not good news when Trump starts tweeting sarcastically about someone or something.

However, U.S. senators seem to think the pressure applied on Ankara is not working despite the White House being directly invested in the matter. Sixty-six senators from both sides of the aisle at the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Erdoğan last week calling allegations against Brunson as “an absurd collection of anonymous accusations, flights of fantasy and random character assassination.” They hinted that other measures are underway to ensure Turkey respects the right of citizens and employees of the U.S. to reside and work in Turkey without fear of persecution.

A few days later, a Republican from Oklahoma Senator James Lankford and a Democrat from New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen showed face on Trump’s favorite TV channel FOX, signaling they are working on a new package of sanctions to punish the Turkish government for keeping U.S. citizens and personnel hostage in Turkish prisons for political bargaining. Senator Lankford said they are seriously contemplating to put sanctions directly on Turkish individuals like prosecutors, judges or even elected officials who might have been involved with Brunson’s detention.

Until recently the Department of State has been the key player to stall any possible sanctions against Turkey, arguing they would bring Pastor Brunson back home through a quiet diplomacy. However, in private conversations, U.S. diplomats admit their hands might be tied soon. In fact, there are signals that Foggy Bottom has already started to coordinate the next steps with Congress.

One of the key officials in former Secretary of State Tillerson’s policy planning team Richard Outzen, who might in fact be appointed as the new Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, revealed the mood at the Foggy Bottom at a recent panel organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “We have heard the Congress very loud and clear [on detentions]. This may lead to some of our decision-making authority being removed from us,” he said, drawing a resemblance between the mood in Turkey after the infamous Sulaymaniyah incident in 2003 where some members of the Turkish special forces were forced to wear Guantanamo style orange jumpsuits by their American counterparts.

While Ankara is impatiently waiting to sit down with new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—who was just sworn in two days ago—to solve the pending crisis between the two countries, the U.S. Congress might well call the shots for introducing sanctions against Turkey. The first step in that direction was taken on April 26. Senators Lankford, Shaheen and Tillis, who introduced a bill to prevent the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey whom they claimed to jeopardize the security of NATO allies by purchasing Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

Undoubtedly, this draft bill is an effort to further corner Ankara ahead of Brunson’s second hearing on May 7 by demonstrating the U.S. side will no longer defer measures ranging from hurting military cooperation to hurting Turkey’s economy. If Washington is convinced there is no light at the end of the tunnel for Brunson, the Congress might go ahead with a vote on the sanctions bill right after the June 24 elections in Turkey.

I have been told by sources familiar with discussions at Capitol Hill that the draft bill on F-35s could be extended in a manner to include targeted sanctions against Turkish individuals or institutions. Imagine the scope of possible further damage and turbulence over bilateral relations if the U.S. Congress blacklists some Turkish officials just like Russian oligarchs at a time when nationalist sentiments in Turkey are multiplied by elections. Source

26 April 2018 - S-400 purchase will have “serious consequences” for Turkey – U.S. NATO ambassador

Ankara’s recent close relations with Moscow and purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems are “worrying” issues that are seriously impacting Turkey’s place in the NATO alliance, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison told German state news agency DW’s Turkish language site.

“Turkey has been a strong ally for us in NATO, but we are very worried at the point that we have come to,” said Hutchinson.

Those worries stem in large part from the Turkish drift towards Russia, which has seen Turkey break with precedent to purchase Russian S-400 missile defence systems, which some experts fear could threaten the interoperability of NATO’s integrated defence systems.

“The Russian missile system represents an obstacle to our ability to work together comprehensively as a whole,” said Hutchinson.

“Our comprehensive collaboration model with Turkey, with whom we run diverse operations involving aircraft and a great many personnel, will be impacted in the event that it possesses a defence system from Russia, which is not a member of NATO,” she added.

Turkey “must be aware” of the serious consequences entailed by the purchase of equipment from Russia, a well-known opponent of NATO, said the U.S. representative.

“We hope Turkey reevaluates this decision,” said Hutchinson. “We want to see Turkey as a strong ally both of the United States and NATO, as it has always been.”

The representative added that Turkey’s bilateral relations with the United States were facing “a serious problem” as a result of the S-400 purchase. Hutchison said, "there is a law of sanction against those countries who buy military equipment from Russia. This sanction law cannot be disregarded for anyone."

While the purchase of S-400 systems, agreed last December, represents a significant step in Russian-Turkish relations, recent cooperation between the countries took new dimensions when Moscow granted Turkey the go-ahead to launch a military operation in northern Syria in January.

“Operation Olive Branch,” which was launched against predominantly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces in northwest Syria, brought Turkey’s Syrian policy into conflict with the United States, which considers the YPG an ally, and led the way to further cooperation in Syria between Turkey, Russia and Iran. Source

25 April 2018 - U.S. senators tie Pastor Brunson's “hostage-taking” to Pres Erdoğan

Two United States senators went on a popular Fox TV show to discuss U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been jailed for over 18 months in Turkey and charged for allegedly aiding terrorist organisations before the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

Senators Jeanne Shaheen and James Lankford both serve on the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen referred to the imprisonment of Brunson as "hostage taking" by the Turkish government, and directly accused the Turkish president for his role in the episode, saying, “Pastor Brunson is being held hostage and I think it goes right to the top to President Erdoğan, he’s the one responsible." 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in previous statements tied the fate of Pastor Brunson to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Gülen and his group are blamed by Erdoğan's government for the failed coup attempt in July 2016. The Ankara government has demanded that the United States government extradite Gülen, but so far the U.S. judiciary has not found that the Turkish case against the cleric meets extradition standards.

"These are totally made up charges, and they don't even connect Pastor Brunson with his church, they called him a Mormon and don't seem to know who he represents," said Shaheen, referring to the the indictment against Brunson, whose trial began on Apr. 16. 

"This is someone who has been in Turkey for 23 years, who at his trial when he was asked about the charges said 'I love Turkey, I would never do anything against the Turkish people', so this is not fair," added the New Hampshire Democrat senator. "We have to make sure that there is some heat brought on Turkey for what they are doing." 

From the Republican side of the aisle, senator James Lankford also joined Shaheen on the same program and unveiled some of the details of the sanctions being discussed at the Senate against Turkey. The Oklahoman senator said that the discussion had advised "putting sanctions directly on those individuals (responsible for imprisoning Brunson), this would be the judges, this would be the city officials. This is targeting those individuals who are actually doing the hostage taking, who are facilitating him being held."

Lankford recalled that Turkey is a long-time NATO ally and ally of the United States "who we have had a great partnership with fighting against terrorism."

However, Lankford said, "in the last three years Turkey has made a really dramatic shift from who they have been in the partnership and they’re shifting away from both Western values ideas and rule of law and all the things that have bound us together to become something we really don’t recognise."

The senator argued that it was Turkey which had moved away from its relationship with the United States, not the other way around, "So we would love to be able to restore this relationship with Turkey but we have not moved, they have moved. We would like to patch this together."

Proposed language on Turkey sanctions in defence of what U.S. congressmen called hostages was dropped from a draft $1.3 trillion federal spending bil l that was released to the public last month, after the State Department's lobbying against the sanctions won the day.

Senators promised then that if no improvement was seen, the possibility of sanctions would be brought back to bear on Turkey.

Senators Lankford and Shaheen issued a statement last week saying, “Turkish officials who participate in the detainment of any innocent American citizen should face international consequences, and the actions against Pastor Brunson, in particular, qualify as hostage-taking."

“We desire cooperation and strengthening ties between our countries, but the U.S. Government has a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of its people,” they said .

Both Lankford and Shaheen serve on the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. Source

27 April 2018 - US senators seek to block F-35 delivery to Turkey over jailed American pastor

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday moved to block Turkey, a NATO ally, from receiving F-35 Lightning II fighters over the imprisonment of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, The Hill reported on Thursday.

Senators James Lankford of Oklahoma, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Thom Tillis from North Carolina, Brunson’s home state, introduced a bill to prevent the transfer of the Lockheed Martin–made F-35 to Turkey and to block Ankara’s role as a maintenance depot for the aircraft.

Under the US-led, multinational Joint Strike Fighter program, Turkey has committed to buying 116 of the F-35A variant.

A native of Black Mountain, North Carolina, Brunson has been in custody since October 2016 after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir and had lived in Turkey for 23 years.

Brunson’s wife was shortly released, but the cleric remained in custody and soon saw his charges upgraded to terrorism. Prosecutors suggested in court hearings that Brunson was held on suspicion of being a follower of Fethullah Gülen, who along with the movement he inspired has been accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup in Turkey in July 2016.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “has continued down a path of reckless governance and disregard for the rule of law,” making the transfer of sensitive F-35 technology to his government “increasingly risky,” Lankford said in a statement.

“Turkey’s strategic decisions regrettably fall more and more out of line with, and at times in contrast to, US interests,” he continued.

“Furthermore, the Turkish government continues to move closer and closer to Russia, as they hold an innocent American pastor in prison to use him as a pawn in political negotiations. The United States does not reward hostage-taking of American citizens; such action instead will be met with the kind of punitive measures this bill would enact.”

Tillis, meanwhile, said that although Turkey has long been a vital NATO ally, “denying the rights of law-abiding Americans undermines the relationship between our two countries.”

“The Erdoğan government should understand that Congress will pursue measures to protect the interests of American citizens, including stopping the transfer of F-35 aircraft to Turkey,” added Tillis, who sits on the Senate Armed Service Committee along with Shaheen.

The bill is the latest attempt from lawmakers to force Turkey to release Brunson, who faces up to 15 years in prison for perpetrating crimes in the name of the Gülen movement and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) despite not being member of either, and up to 20 years for obtaining state secrets for political or military espionage.

Brunson has denied the allegations.

Lankford and Shaheen, both on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, last week called for economic sanctions against Turkey as part of a fiscal 2019 spending bill if Brunson is not released.

Lawmakers have previously called for withholding military equipment from Turkey as the relationship between the NATO member and the United States becomes increasingly fraught.

Last year, House Foreign Affairs Committee member David Cicilline of Rhode Island proposed blocking the sale of F-35s and handguns to Turkey to force its government to comply with US law after the May 2017 on protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington. Source

The U.S issues three warnings to Turkish gov’t in two days
ilhan Tanir

Apr 21 2018

The first of three warnings from Washington to Turkey came on Wednesday morning from the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC). Speaking before the committee was A. Wess Mitchell, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. State Department.

There were several Turkey-related issues Mitchell addressed. Many of HFAC members questioned the detention and ongoing trial of American pastor Andrew Brunson who has been jailed in Turkey for over 18 months. Mitchell stated that Turkey’s indictment, which also included accusations that Brunson was working with both the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and what the Turkish government calls the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), to divide Turkey are “laughable.” He also said that Turkey appears determined to purchase the S-400 air defense system from Russia, which could spell US embargoes on Turkey.

Personally, this is the first time I have heard the sanctions message given so clearly. U.S. officials have been talking about the possibility of sanctions on Turkey, but Mitchell’s certainty while speaking appeared new.

Furthmore, Mitchell noted some of the potential impacts of the F35 fighter jet project, which has been much-discussed by certain members of Congress in the past, but again, I do not remember  if it was ever mentioned by a US administration official.

Turkey has made large investments in the F35, which is considered to be the next generation fighter jet. Some parts for the F35 are even produced in Turkey. Although the U.S. administration has not made any open or veiled threats regarding the F35 in the past, this week, a senior official at the U.S. State Department stated such possibility.

U.S. officials have been particularly unhappy about the fact that a large number of Russian personnel have expected the arrival of the Russian S-400 to gather information from all other military bases in Turkey. Although Ankara is insistent on its message that the S-400 deal is signed and completed, the US continues to harden its stance on the S-400, and it is likely that we will see heavy embargoes as a result.

The second message from Washington came from the Pentagon on Thursday.

This warning came from U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson Dana White. White pointed out that none of the 105 missiles fired by the U.S. and coalition partners France and Britain at three targets near Damascus were cut off by Russian air defense systems. “The Russian-manufactured air defense systems were totally ineffective,” White said while she noted that the system failed a second time when it accidentally sent missiles two days after the attack.

White added that Washington communicated the message to Ankara that Turkey’s S-400 system will not work with NATO systems.

For any other countries besides Turkey that are thinking of pouring money into Russian S-400s, the Pentagon is effectively stating that these systems are useless, and they will be ineffective especially against U.S. and NATO weapons.

Finally, following the warnings from Congress and the Pentagon, a third warning came from the U.S. State Department.

At Thursday’s press briefing, in response to Ahval’s question as to that whether the U.S. government has confidence in Turkish government that the fair and free elections can be held in Turkey under the state of emergency, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said, “During a state of emergency, it would be difficult to hold a completely free, fair, and transparent election in a manner that’s consistent with Turkish law and also Turkey’s international obligations… We are following this very closely. We have concerns about their (the Turkish government’s) ability to hold it (an election) during this type of state of emergency. We would certainly like to see free and fair elections, but there’s a concern here.”

It should not be forgotten that the U.S. administration never designated the 2017 presidential referendum election as fair, free, or transparent last year.

This time around, just one day after Erdoğan announced a snap election, Washington is already calling into question the legitimacy of the upcoming election under the state of emergency. Source

Top US diplomats threaten Ankara with consequences for S-400 sale, Brunson case

9 April 2018

Senior U.S. officials issued a string of warnings to Ankara for Turkey's growing relations with Russia and warned of possible consequences in one particular case that involves an American pastor who has been jailed in İzmir since late 2016.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell said on Wednesday that Turkey had not included the U.S. in its arrangements with the Russian military to facilitate the launch of Operation Olive Branch in Syria's Afrin province against the People's Protection Units (YPG), the militia of the Syrian PKK affiliate Democratic People's Party (PYD), and he added that this "is gravely concerning." Mitchell was testifying at the House Foreign Affairs Committee on U.S. President Donald Trump's administration's Middle East policy along with Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David M. Satterfield.

Mitchell said if Turkey is to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense systems, the U.S. had been very clear with Ankara that it would have to face sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). "We have also been very clear with regard to the consequences for potential participation in an F-35 program and more broadly our military-industrial cooperation with Turkey," he added.

Even though both Ankara and Moscow officially acknowledged that the deal has been inked long ago, experts in Washington say the U.S. State Department still assumes that it will not require sanctions until the S-400s are delivered and activated. Turkish officials previously asserted on several occasions that Turkey's decision to buy these systems were directly related to the U.S. Congress's past resistance to similar sales to Ankara. Some other observers believe the S-400 sale was mandated by the Turkish-Russian rapprochement deal in 2016.

In any case, the U.S. is still pushing for an alternative to the Russian S-400s. Last month, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Tina Kaidanow, who heads the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, had a series of meetings in Ankara and proposed a deal to Turkish officials. The Habertürk daily, referencing an anonymous U.S. diplomat, in March reported that Kaidanow submitted an updated price offer as well as a letter of intention that outlines Washington's willingness to co-produce and develop missile systems with Turkey's defense industry.

Mitchell raised another issue was on Wednesday, that of the Pastor Andrew Brunson case. He declared that the State Department had been considering options for consequences for Ankara if the American pastor is not released from prison in İzmir, where he is standing trial on accusations that he had aided members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).

"We're in close coordination, in touch with the Senate and House, in talking through some of those possible measures, but I want to underscore that we take it very seriously," he said.

This week, Trump raised his personal concerns about Brunson's case. It was slightly unusual for Trump as he has so far not been tweeting about the Turkish government, even after the Turkey-led the U.N. resolution against his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

"Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!" Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Trump's rather soft tone against Ankara, along with another weak State Department statement on the issue, triggered speculations that a back-door deal might have been in the making. A Turkish court ordered Brunson to continue to be held in prison and scheduled another hearing in May, which coincides with Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla's sentencing in New York. Atilla, a former deputy CEO of Turkish state-owned Halkbank, was found guilty for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. Source

Trump tweets call over American pastor jailed in Turkey 

18 April 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump has tweeted a demand for Turkey to free an American Christian missionary on trial on terrorism and espionage charges.

“Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump said.

“They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”

Brunson has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 2016 in the wake of a failed coup attempt.

He faces a possible life sentence on charges of committing crimes and spying in the name of both the Fethullah Gülen movement, an Islamist group accused of masterminding the coup, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a secular left-wing Kurdish armed group.

Brunson said he never met a member of the Gülen movement in his life and broke down weeping at his trial on Monday, saying he was being kept in solitary confinement.

Brunson had been the pastor at a church in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir for 23 years before an anonymous witness testified that he had carried out missionary activities elsewhere in Turkey and that he had referred to the Gülen movement as a religious group in the wake of the coup.

A former U.S. ambassador to Turkey told AhvalTV that Brunson was being used as a hostage to extract demands from the United States.

“The minister appears to be a hostage to Turkish demands from the U.S.,” said Robert Pearson. “He has been peaceful for years in Turkey. He was charged with cooperation with terrorists, something that has been used against hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens after the coup.” 

US warns Turkey of consequences if jailed pastor isn’t freed

19 April 2018

The Trump administration warned Turkey on April 18 that it is considering punitive “consequences” if the NATO ally does not throw out the charges or acquit an American pastor accused of espionage and aiding terrorist groups.

Wess Mitchell, the United States’ top diplomat for Europe, said the charges against Andrew Brunson, 50, of North Carolina, were “laughable.”

“The Turks claim to have a high standard of justice, the indictment suggests otherwise,” Mitchell told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“This is clearly an innocent man. We are watching to see if the Turks adhere to their stated standards of justice. If that does not happen, we are considering options for consequences.”

He said the State Department is consulting with Congress about “possible measures” to take against Turkey if Brunson is not released, but he did not elaborate.

Mitchell’s comments came a day after President Donald Trump called Brunson “a fine gentleman and Christian leader” who was “being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”

Brunson, who faces up to 35 years in prison, denied any wrongdoing at a court hearing Monday in Turkey’s İzmir, which was attended by the U.S. ambassador at-large for religious freedom, Sam Brownback.

Brunson was detained in the aftermath of a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) led by U.S.-based Fethullah Gülen.

“I don’t accept any of the allegations or accusations,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Brunson as telling the court.

“I did not engage in any illegal activity. I had no relations with anyone engaged in such activity,” Brunson said. “I am a Christian pastor. I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different,” he said. Source

Turkey rules to keep US pastor in jail

17 April 2018

A Turkish court ruled on April 16 to keep an American Christian pastor in custody, deeming him to be a flight risk, after his trial opened in a case that has raised tensions with Washington.

Andrew Brunson, who ran a Protestant church in the western city of Izmir, has been detained by Turkish authorities since October 2016. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail.

Brunson, wearing a black suit, speaking fluent Turkish and sometimes bursting into tears, emphatically rejected all the charges against him at the first court hearing in the town of Aliağa north of İzmir.

He is accused of engaging in activities on behalf of the group led by exiled Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara says is behind a failed 2016 coup, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Both the Gülen movement, which is called Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) by the authorities, and the PKK are banned by Turkey as terror groups.

Brunson is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes.

The judge ordered Brunson to stay in jail, setting the next hearing for May 7.

The ruling was based on evidence given by witnesses in the case and the risk that Brunson might flee.

The United States expressed concern.

“We have seen no credible evidence that Mr. Brunson is guilty of a crime and are convinced that he is innocent,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“We hope that the judicial system in Turkey will resolve his case in a timely, fair and transparent manner.”

In an indication of the importance of the case for Washington, the hearing was attended by Sam Brownback, the US ambassador at large for religious freedom, and Senator Thom Tillis from Brunson’s home state of North Carolina.

“We are very disappointed. If anything, I think the information that has been presented today creates a more compelling reason why he is innocent,” Tillis told reporters after the ruling.

Brunson reacted with emotion, telling his wife Norine in English: “I am going crazy. I love you.”

He had earlier told the judge tearfully: “I want to return my home. For 16 months, I have been separated from my wife.”

“I want the whole truth to be revealed. I reject all the accusations in the indictment. I haven’t been involved in any illegal activity,” Brunson told the court.

“I haven’t done anything against Turkey. On the contrary, I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years.”

He moved to the country in 1993 and opened his Izmir church in 2010.

The Brunson case has further hiked tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, with US President Donald Trump raising the issue in talks with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“That relationship is going to have difficulty in moving forward as long as Andrew Brunson is incarcerated,” Brownback told reporters at the courthouse.

In September, Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if Washington handed over Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

Washington brushed off the offer but has been working intensely to secure the release of Brunson, one of several American nationals caught up in the crackdown after the failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016.

In February, NASA scientist Serkan Gölge, a dual national, was jailed for 7.5 years for being a member of Gülen’s movement in a conviction denounced by Washington.

Senator Tillis said there was “no deal,” adding: “This is about what we believe is an innocent man who has been in prison for a year and a half.”

In his statement to the court, Brunson rejected the accusations of links to Gülen’s group, saying: “That would be an insult to my religion. I am a Christian. I would not join an Islamic movement.”

Numbering just several thousand, the Protestant community in overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Turkey largely comprises converts from Islam, expatriates and refugees.

The Turkish Association of Protestant Churches said in a report that 2017 was marked by continued hate crimes and physical attacks.

Brownback described the trial as a “religious freedom case.”

“Turkey, in its history, has been very open, so that’s one of the things that’s really troubling about this,” he said.


U.S. pastor Brunson cries at Turkish trial

16 April 2016

U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, incarcerated in Turkey since October 2016, burst into tears at the first hearing of his trial on terrorism charges in Turkey on Monday.

Brunson sobbed before telling a court in the city of Izmir that he was in a single-person cell and suffering psychologically, according to Hurriyet newspaper. Brunson said he was taking pills to treat his condition and had asked to be transferred out of solitary confinement.

The U.S. pastor is on trial for aiding and abetting the Fethullah Gulen movement, an Islamist movement that Turkey blames for masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels a terrorist organization. He denies the charges, which carry a prison sentence of 35 years. In his statement to the court, Brunson once more proclaimed his innocence.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “The state has always kept an eye on us. I’ve never done anything against Turkey. Rather I love Turkey. I am praying for Turkey for 25 years. I’m innocent. I want the truth to come out now. I do not agree with any of the claims or charges.”

Brunson’s internment has widened a political rift between Ankara and Washington. President Donald Trump has personally appealed for his release. Relations are at an historic low as the two governments argue over policy in Syria, Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen’s continued residence in the United States and Turkey’s worsening human rights record under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Ambassador at Large Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Corth Carolina senator Thom Tillis were among the people followed the trial in the court. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, the indictment against Mr. Brunson is largely based on anonymous witnesses, some of whom were expected to testify later Monday.

WSJ wrote with regards to the trial:

The accusation that the pastor has had links to supporters of Mr. Gulen is also tied to a picture investigators found in his phone, according to court documents. The picture features a meat-and-rice dish widely popular across the Middle East, Maqluba, which is described as a Gulenist delicacy in the court documents.

Mr. Brunson said his daughter had sent him the picture but added he didn’t know the dish’s name at the time or its alleged connection to Gulenists.

“I learned of this dish in the indictment file,” Mr. Brunson told judges.


US pastor Brunson indictment cites mobile phone signals as evidence of ‘terrorism’

15 April 2018

New details have been published by the state-run Anadolu news agency concerning the indictment filed for Andrew Brunson, an American pastor facing 35 years in prison who is to appear in a Turkish court on Monday, including signals emitted by his mobile phone as evidence of “terrorist” activity.

Brunson is charged with allegedly perpetrating crimes in the name of the faith-based Gülen movement and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as obtaining state secrets for political or military espionage.

State news agency Anadolu reported on Saturday that according to the indictment Brunson’s mobile phone emitted signals 293 times in the Konak district of İzmir where the mobile of an important member of the Gülen movement had also signaled between April 4, 2011 and Aug. 19, 2015. Konak is the most popular and heavily visited district of İzmir.

Izmir prosecutor Berkan Karakaya demands in the indictment up to 15 years in prison for Brunson for perpetrating crimes in the name of the Gülen movement and the outlawed PKK despite not being member of either, and up to 20 years for obtaining state secrets for political or military espionage.

The indictment, which demands 35 years in prison for Brunson, who has been jailed in Turkey since October 2016, also accuses the Gülen movement of spreading Christianity through interfaith dialogue.

Brunson’s lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said the preacher had been arrested for his Christian faith according to Reuters.

“There is evidence that shows Brunson was arrested due to his faith,” Halavurt told Reuters on the eve of the trial, saying Brunson’s religious role had been “classified as aiding terror organizations.”

Halavurt said Brunson faced the “totally unfounded” charge of aiding a terrorist organization and should be freed at Monday’s hearing in Izmir.

The US government will be represented at the hearing if the court decides to open the trial to the public, a senior US official told the Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity.

US Senator from North Carolina Thom Tillis and US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback will attend the hearing, Reuters reported.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on March 13 issued a statement condemning the indictment charging Brunson.

“USCIRF urges President Trump and others in the administration to redouble their ongoing efforts to secure Pastor Brunson’s release. No stone should be left unturned in our efforts on behalf of this unjustly imprisoned American. We call again for his immediate release and, if this is not forthcoming, for the administration and Congress to impose targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice,” said USCIRF Vice Chairs Sandra Jolley and Kristina Arriaga.

A North Carolina native, Brunson has been in custody since October 2016 after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir. They had lived in Turkey for 23 years.

Brunson’s wife, Norine, was shortly released, but the cleric remained in custody and soon saw his charges upgraded to terrorism. Prosecutors have suggested in court hearings that Brunson is being held on suspicion of being a follower of Fethullah Gülen.

During a police academy graduation ceremony in Ankara in late September, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said: “They want a pastor [Andrew Brunson] from us, you have a pastor [Fethullah Gülen], too. Extradite him so that we can prosecute him.”

In response to Erdoğan, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said, “I can’t imagine that we would go down that road.”

“In terms of Fethullah Gülen, who is here in the United States, we have received several requests for his extradition from the Turkish government related to him,” Nauert said, adding: “We continue to evaluate it, take a look at the materials that the Turkish government has provided us. I don’t have anything new for you on the subject of that.”

The pro-government Yeni Asır daily claimed in October that it had acquired an audio recording in which Brunson speaks back in 2010 about a coup attempt that would take place in 2016.

The daily said Brunson talks to a young adult six years ago and implies that there will be a coup in the summer of 2016. Brunson also gives him a survival kit for use during an emergency, including a water purifier, high-calorie pills to be used in the event of a lack of food and mufflers worn by US Special Forces.

According to the report, Brunson says: “There will be a huge earthquake [in Turkey] in the summer months of 2016. Hide those things [the survival kit] in a place you can reach [in difficult times]. And meet me at the US Consulate General in İstanbul after that earthquake.”

The pro-Erdoğan Takvim daily on May 20 accused Brunson, whose release US President Donald Trump sought from Turkish President Erdoğan, of being behind a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 claiming that he would be the CIA chief if the coup attempt had been successful.

According to the top story on Takvim’s front page, Brunson is a “high-level CIA agent” and also a “high-level member of the Gülen movement,” which Erdoğan has labeled as a terrorist organization and which he accuses of masterminding the failed coup. The arrest of the pastor has paralyzed CIA operations in Turkey, according to the article, and the US has been exerting all means to save him.

Takvim’s editor-in-chief, Ergun Diler, who accompanied Erdoğan during a visit to Washington, D.C., in May, also published a column about Brunson with the title “Rambo Pastor,” claiming that the pastor foiled an assassination attempt in 2011 in İzmir due to his agent training.

“Brunson was a ‘deep’ name, and he was influential not only in Turkey but all over the region,” Diler wrote and claimed the CIA would kill him in prison if they believed that Turkey would not deport him to the US.

Takvim is a daily of the Turkuvaz media group, which was run by Serhat Albayrak, brother of Berat Albayrak, energy minister and the son-in-law of President Erdoğan. Source

U.S. is to stay in Syria a little longer

4 April 2018

The U.S. president Donald Trump agreed to keep the U.S. forces in Syria a little longer during a National Securtity Council meeting this week, but is determined to eventually withdraw according to a senior administration official talking to Reuters on Wednesday.

“We’re not going to immediately withdraw but neither is the president willing to back a long-term commitment,” told the senior official. 

The timetable of withdrawal has not been approved yet, as Trump wants to ensure the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) said the same official. Trump also wants other countries and the United Nations to step in to sustain stability in Syria and to prevent the reemerging of the ISIS. According to the senior official, Trump would like to withdraw from Syria in no longer than a year or less.

“We are going to be out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” said Trump last Tuesday. 

The White House published a statement today on Syria, noting the military mission in Syria “coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed". “The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated.  We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans. We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re-emerges,” said the statement. Source

Trump adm offering incentives to Turkey to release jailed US pastor - WSJ

4 April 2018

The Trump administration is intensifying its efforts to improve relations between Turkey and the U.S. to ensure the release of Pastor Brunson ahead of his first court hearing on Apr. 18, wrote the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Wednesday.

Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in the western city of Izmir, was arrested in October 2016 and has been jailed for 18 months awaiting trial. He is charged with supporting and carrying out activities for the Fethullah Gülen movement, a religious group accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the July 2016 military coup, and faces two separate terms of 15 years and 20 years in jail, if convicted. 

According to WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum who is the former WSJ reporter in Turkey, Pastor Brunson’s case has made him a celebrity among Christian activists and he is being represented by the conservative group American Center for Law and Justice, whose chief counsel is one of the U.S. President’s personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow.

The Trump administration has also been pressing U.S. lawmakers to prevent the implementation of a measure that would bar the Turkish officials linked to Mr. Brunson’s detention from entering the United States, said WSJ.

According to The Wall Street Journal, prosecutors filed a 62-page indictment accusing Brunson of espionage and working to convert Muslims.

Brunson will face the court for the first time in this month, following more than 18 months in jail.

Since November 2017, U.S. prosecutors have dropped charges against 11 of the 15 members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security team who were accused of beating peaceful protesters in Washington last year. According to officials, President Trump brought up the issue of Pastor Brunson directly during a recent telephone call with President Erdoğan, the WSJ said. The newspaper added that former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had mentioned to Erdoğan during their private meeting in February that the charges against his security detail had been dropped. Source

39-ton weapons container removed from İncirlik airbase

3 April 2018

A large armoured weapons container has been removed from İncirlik, the U.S. airbase in southern Turkey that serves as a main conduit for the U.S. military operations from the Middle East to Afghanistan.

Turkish daily Birgün reported that the 15-metre long, 39-ton container had been removed from İncirlik for use on a U.S. facility in a different country by a Lockheed C-5 M Super Galaxy heavy transport plane.

Turkey’s deteriorating relations with the United States have led to discussion by some quarters, including at one point a Turkish Deputy Prime Minister , around shutting down the base, which was established in 1954 by a joint-use agreement between the Turkish and the U.S. military.

U.S. congressional report in March floated the idea of a “cost-benefit” analysis of moving the base, which it said would depend on the viability and location of alternative sites.

Reports emerged in that the United States was set to abandon the base, which Washington denied in late March.

However, the United States has confirmed that it has sharply reduced combat operation from the base, and is considering permanent cutbacks there.