U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, on Friday and left the meeting agreeing to “resolve” the unspecified “issues” between them, paramount among them the sanctions Washington imposed on Ankara this week.
The Trump administration sanctioned two senior Turkish government officials on Wednesday for their involvement in the arrest and continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who preached the Gospel for over two decades in Izmir before being accused of aiding terrorists in the aftermath of the 2016 failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Pompeo and Çavuşoğlu met on the sidelines of the ongoing Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial in Singapore.
“There might be problems between our countries and there will also be dissidence. However, Turkey always wishes to resolve these issues via diplomacy, dialogue and mutual understanding,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency. “Since the beginning we have said that a solution cannot be reached by using threatening language and sanctions.”
Çavuşoğlu insisted nonetheless that discussions with Pompeo were “constructive,” though noting that “it cannot be expected to solve all these crises or problems in one meeting.”
Pompeo was reportedly more forthcoming with reporters, stating that he demanded Turkey release Brunson and clarified the high level of importance that the Trump administration placed on his case. Addressing the Brunson case as “one of the many issues that we have with the Turks,” Pompeo said he put officials there “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.”
“Brunson needs to come home as do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government,” he added, according to Fox News. “Pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people.”
Turkish police have arrested several individuals working at U.S. consulates in the country on alleged espionage charges, most Turkish citizens. The State Department has emphasized that they are pressuring Ankara just as much to free those individuals as to free Brunson, an American citizen.
Turkey’s Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said in an interview following the Pompeo-Çavuşoğlu meeting that he felt optimistic that the United States would soon remove the sanctions.
“I’ve spoken to our foreign minister today … I’ve learned that there was a very constructive, positive mood in their meeting. A strong will, which is in the interest of the two countries, has been displayed,” Albayrak said, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. “Even brothers in the same house or husbands and wives who’ve been married for 40 years cannot agree on everything. They sometimes argue with each other, but they later come to an agreement.”
The U.S. Treasury announced sanctions against Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu on Wednesday for their roles in prosecuting and detaining Brunson. Brunson was arrested in late 2016 following the failed coup against Erdoğan for allegedly working as a spy for Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen and the U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist association the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Turkish government claims Gülen was the mastermind behind the coup, a claim Gülen denies. The United States has refused to extradite Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, insisting that Turkey has not provided sufficient enough evidence that he organized the coup to merit extradition.
Brunson has rejected the accusations against him, noting that prosecutors have not offered any evidence that confirms their allegations and that, as a Christian pastor, he has no motive to work with Islamic or atheist Marxist organizations.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the sanctions Wednesday. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
Politicians across Turkey’s political spectrum—both members of the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and secular opposition members—condemned the sanctions and demanded Ankara take reciprocal measures.
Brunson spent over a year and a half in prison and was recently moved to house arrest due to significant medical issues he developed in prison.
“He is pretty happy to be in his house [in İzmir] rather than being in prison. He said that. However, after the rejection of our application to lift the decision of house arrest we will renew our claim in the legal term,” İsmail Cem Halavut, Brunson’s attorney, said on Friday. “He is happy to be with his family.”