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.


Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 8 min 11 sec ago
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Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.