Turkey to send delegation to Washington amid crisis over US pastor

US pastor Andrew Craig Brunson was arrested in July, prompting Trump to warn Turkey that the US was ready to impose “large sanctions” against its NATO ally. (AFP)
Updated 09 August 2018
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Turkey to send delegation to Washington amid crisis over US pastor

  • Turkish delegation to visit Washington this week to discuss growing friction between the NATO allies
  • Andrew Brunson was jailed for allegedly supporting a group that Ankara blames for the attempted coup

WASHINGTON/ANKARA: A Turkish delegation will visit Washington this week to discuss growing friction between the NATO allies, according to reports on Tuesday, while Washington said the two countries remained at odds on its core demand that Ankara free American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert acknowledged reports of the visit by a delegation under newly appointed Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal but declined to confirm any meetings between US officials and the Turks.
Broadcaster CNN Turk and Reuters cited diplomatic and Turkish foreign ministry sources in reporting the planned visit, which CNN Turk said would happen in two days.
At a briefing, Nauert confirmed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Turkish counterpart on Monday but said the two sides had not reached agreement on the release of Brunson, who has been imprisoned by Turkey since October 2016.
Brunson, an evangelical Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina, was jailed for allegedly supporting a group that Ankara blames for an attempted coup in 2016. Brunson denies the charge. Washington is also seeking the release of three locally employed embassy staff.
“The kind of progress we want is for Pastor Brunson, our locally employed staff and other American citizens to be brought home. That’s the progress we’re looking for and we’re not there just yet,” Nauert said.
Nauert, when asked whether the countries were close to an agreement over the release of Brunson, said, “It’s certainly a good thing that the Secretary and the foreign minister were able to have a phone call yesterday.”
Relations between the two countries have steadily worsened, strained by differences on Syria policy and Brunson’s imprisonment as well as trade issues. Washington is reviewing Turkey’s duty-free access to US markets while Ankara has imposed retaliatory tariffs on US goods in response to American steel and aluminum tariffs. The US review could affect $1.7 billion of Turkish exports.
The diplomatic crisis has hurt foreign investor confidence in Turkey, which relies on overseas capital to fund its widening current account deficit. The Turkish currency, the lira, has collapsed this year, putting pressure on banks and corporations, and it hovered close to its record low against the dollar on Tuesday.
Some US officials say Turkey is holding Brunson as a bargaining chip after Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager at Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank, was convicted and imprisoned in the United States in May for helping Iran evade US sanctions.
Ankara has demanded that Atilla serve the remainder of his 32-month sentence in Turkey.
Last week, Washington imposed sanctions on President Tayyip Erdogan’s justice minister and interior minister, saying they played leading roles in organizations responsible for Brunson’s arrest. Erdogan has said Turkey would retaliate against the sanctions.
The US Embassy in Ankara said on Tuesday that the United States continued to be a solid ally of Turkey despite ongoing tensions, adding that the two countries had an active economic relationship.


Turkey train crash leaves 9 dead, dozens injured

Updated 6 min 59 sec ago
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Turkey train crash leaves 9 dead, dozens injured

  • The high-speed train usually passes through that station without stopping
  • Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 84 other people had sought medical help after the crash

ANKARA, TURKEY: A high-speed train hit a railway engine and crashed into a pedestrian overpass Thursday at a station in the Turkish capital of Ankara, killing nine people and injuring dozens, officials said.
The 6:30 a.m. train from Ankara to the central Turkish city of Konya collided head-on with the engine, which was checking the tracks at the capital’s small Marsandiz station, Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan told reporters after inspecting the site. The high-speed train, which the Anadolu Agency said was carrying 206 passengers, usually passes through that station without stopping.
At least two cars derailed, hitting the station’s overpass, which then collapsed onto the train. Three engine drivers and six passengers were killed in the crash, Turhan said. One passenger died after being hospitalized while the others were killed at the scene.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 84 other people had sought medical help after the crash.
Television footage showed emergency services working to rescue passengers from wrangled cars and debris. Hurriyet newspaper said sniffer dogs assisted efforts to find survivors. Turhan said later no one else was believed to be trapped.
It wasn’t immediately clear if a signaling problem caused the crash. Authorities detained three state railway employees over suspected negligence and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed a thorough investigation.
Passenger Ayse Ozyurt told the IHA news agency that the accident occurred 12 minutes after the train left the main station and that it had not yet gained its maximum speed.
“The train was not fast at that time yet,” she said. “Suddenly, there was a frightening breakage ... and the train was off the rail.”
Konya, about 260 kilometers (160 miles) south of Ankara, is home to the tomb of the Sufi mystic and poet Jalaladdin Rumi, attracting thousands of pilgrims and tourists. The crash occurred during an annual week of remembrance for Rumi, when many travel to Konya to watch Whirling Dervishes, members of a Sufi sect, perform.
Turkey has had a raft of train crashes this year.
In July, 24 people were killed and more than 70 injured when most of a passenger train derailed in northwestern Turkey after torrential rains caused a section of the tracks to collapse. Last month, 15 people were injured when a passenger train collided with a freight train in Turkey’s central province of Sivas.