Erdogan Fires Back at Trump Sanctions Threat, Says U.S.-Turkey Friendship Is on the Line

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey July 24, 2018
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey July 24, 2018Credit: \ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey will stand its ground after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to slap sanctions on Ankara if it does not free an American pastor, broadcaster Haberturk reported on Sunday.

The friendship between the United States and Turkey is on the line in this dispute, Erdogan was quoted as saying by TRT Haber and other media. 

"We will not take a step back when faced with sanctions," Erdogan is quoted as saying. "They should not forget that they will lose a sincere partner." 

American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was transferred to house arrest this week after 21 months of detention in a Turkish prison, has worked in Turkey for more than two decades. 

Brunson has been accused of supporting the group Ankara says was behind a failed military coup in 2016 and Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The pastor, who has denied the charges, faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty. 

Diplomats have been working to settle the tense dispute and on Saturday U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo discussed the status of the pastor with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, the State Department said. 

Trump reportedly asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release a Turkish woman suspected of helping Hamas, as part of a deal revealed in the Washington Post to release Brunson.

According to the report and as confirmed to Haaretz, in a phone call between Trump and Netanyahu on July 14, Trump asked Netanyahu to release Ebru Özkan, 27 year-old Turkish citizen who was detained by Israel last month on suspicion of being a danger to state security and conspiring with terror organizations.

Özkan was released the day after the Trump-Netanyahu phone call, after a month in detention. Israeli officials refused until now to confirm the reason for the release, but told Haaretz that she was deported, not released, and that she would have been deported anyway at some point.

An Israeli official confirmed to Haaretz that Trump had pressured Netanyahu to release her. According to the Washington Post, the request came as part of an agreement made between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during their meeting on July 11 on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Turkish senior official denied the report, calling the claim that there was an agreement "completely baseless."

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