President Donald Trump announced that he would sanction Turkey for detaining an American pastor — a move that could further imperil the already tense relationship between Washington and Ankara.
The president is “not happy with Turkey’s decision” to continue to detain the man who has been held for nearly two years, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday. Trump ordered sanctions that target two top Turkish officials — the minister of justice and minister of interior — for their role in the issue.
Turkey, a NATO ally, responded by calling the sanctions “unacceptable” and promised to retaliate. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu tweeted after the announcement that the US can’t “obtain unlawful requests” in this way. The Turkish lira, meanwhile, has dropped in anticipation of the sanctions.
The pastor in question, Andrew Brunson, is originally from North Carolina but has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years. Turkish authorities detained him on October 7, 2016, claiming that he was a spy and had connections to a terrorist group. The US expected him to be released on July 18, but on Wednesday, Turkish officials moved Brunson due to health concerns and kept him under house arrest.
The charges he’s facing mean he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Trump has repeatedly called Brunson a “great Christian” and expressed his displeasure over the pastor’s detainment for months, but hadn’t taken significant action before Thursday. It’s unclear, though, why Trump decided to escalate this issue now, or what the sanctions he promised to impose might look like.
On July 26, Vice President Mike Pence had noted the possibility of sanctions during a speech at a conference on religious freedom. After the speech, Trump tweeted that he would follow through on the threat.