U.S. threatens Turkey with new sanctions over imprisoned pastor Brunson

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by Meghan Bodette


Statements from high-ranking American officials suggest that relations between the U.S. and Turkey will continue to deteriorate, with additional rounds of sanctions in the works if imprisoned American priest Andrew Brunson is not released.

“We have more that we’re planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a Cabinet meeting earlier this week.

On Thursday evening, U.S. president Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that “Turkey has taken advantage of the United States for many years,” and that the US would be “cutting back” its relationship with the country due to its treatment of Brunson.

Trump first threatened to impose “large sanctions” on Turkey on July 26th. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül on August 1st, and U.S. negotiators reportedly gave Turkey at least one date by which to release Brunson or face greater consequences.

According to the Treasury statement on the sanctions, both Soylu and Gul were sanctioned “pursuant to [Executive Order] 13818  for being the leader of an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse.” Their U.S. assets were frozen, and U.S. individuals cannot engage in transactions with either of them.

The U.S. has also raised tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium and blocked the transfer of F-35 jets.

The timing of Trump and Mnuchin’s statements suggests that another ultimatum was given, and that new Treasury sanctions will hit Turkish officials if Brunson remains in Turkey on house arrest past that time. Executive Order 13818, which is related to the Global Magnitsky Act, gives the U.S. the power to impose sanctions on individuals who commit serious human rights violations.

Soylu and Gul are the first two Turkish officials to be sanctioned under these laws, specifically because of their agencies’ treatment of Brunson— despite both agencies’ histories of human rights abuses against religious and ethnic minorities, dissidents, leftists, journalists, and others. New sanctions will likely hit other individuals determined to be involved in Brunson’s case.

The first round of sanctions accelerated the fall of the Turkish lira— which has lost about 40% of its value against the dollar in 2018 alone. While Erdogan’s outreach to Germany and France and Qatar’s promise of $15 billion in investment caused the lira’s value to rise slightly, new sanctions may lead to another record low. Mnuchin’s warning has already caused a slight fall.