National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday that the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “made a big mistake in not releasing Pastor Brunson.”
The continuing detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson on espionage charges precipitated a diplomatic and financial conflict between the U.S. and Turkey that has enormously devalued the Turkish currency.
“Every day that goes by that mistake continues. This crisis could be over instantly if they did the right thing as a NATO ally, part of the West, and release pastor Brunson without condition,” said Bolton, who is currently visiting Israel.
Bolton clarified that Turkey’s continued membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is “not an issue at the moment.”
“We’re focused on Pastor Brunson and the other Americans that the Turkish government’s holding illegitimately and we expect that to get resolved,” he said.
Like Brunson, many of them are linked by the Turkish government to exiled imam Fethullah Gülen, charged with masterminding the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan. Gülen has long lived in the United States. The Turkish government seeks his extradition and has suggested Americans imprisoned in Turkey could be freed if Gülen is delivered.
Bolton dismissed Qatar’s $15 billion pledge of support for Turkey as “utterly insufficient to have an impact on Turkey’s economy.”
“It’s certainly not helpful but we’ll actually see what develops from their pledge,” Bolton said, signaling that Qatar’s intervention won the embattled emirate no friends in the Trump White House.
President Erdogan has, unsurprisingly, turned to blaming American sanctions for all of Turkey’s economic woes, even though Turkey’s debt and currency crisis was brewing long before the United States took action. As Voice of America summarized on Tuesday:
Erdogan’s government has spent massively on infrastructure, building new roads, airports and a high-speed train network. But fueling a boom with borrowed cash has now left Turkey with runaway inflation, a huge trade deficit, a large dollar debt and a plunging currency. The lira has lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year, making it more expensive to repay loans. The cost of servicing foreign borrowings has risen by 25 percent in the past two months.
Deutsche Welle on Wednesday found little appetite in Europe for bailing Erdogan out, even though Europeans have a lot of money riding on Turkish investments. If anything, Erdogan’s nationalist response to the Brunson conflict is making foreign money even more nervous about the political and economic environment in Turkey.
For instance, the perpetrators of a drive-by shooting against the U.S. embassy in Ankara told police on Wednesday they were angry about President Donald Trump’s criticism of Turkey and the steep drop in the value of the lira. Investors worry that Erdogan is creating an environment where large-scale street violence could erupt at any moment, while the government focuses on scapegoating the United States instead of addressing the true causes of the lira’s collapse.