Turkey frees US scientist but tensions remain

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a conference on judicial reform strategy in Ankara, Turkey, on May 30, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
Updated 30 May 2019

Turkey frees US scientist but tensions remain

  • Serkan Golge was freed shortly after Erdogan spoke by telephone with US President Donald Trump
  • Turkish authorities charged Golge with ties to self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen

WASHING: Turkey on Wednesday released a NASA scientist with dual US-Turkish citizenship whose nearly three-year detention had soured relations, but the NATO allies remained divided over issues including Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile system.
Serkan Golge, a naturalized US citizen working for the US space agency in Houston, was arrested in July 2016 on a visit back to Turkey in the aftermath of a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish authorities charged Golge with ties to self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accused of orchestrating the mutiny. Golge was sentenced in 2018 to seven and a half years in prison despite US State Department protests that there was no credible evidence.
His wife, Kubra Golge, expressed joy at his release but said that he remained banned from traveling outside Turkey.
“We are happy but he still rejects the charges against him,” she told AFP by email. “Hope we can come back soon to the US.”
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the United States would press for Golge to be able to return to the United States “as soon as possible.”
“We want to commend them for doing the right thing today by releasing him,” Ortagus told reporters. “We think it’s welcome news.”
Ortagus said that the United States was still seeking the release of detained local employees of US diplomatic missions in Turkey.
Golge was freed shortly after Erdogan spoke by telephone with US President Donald Trump, although an official summary by Turkey did not mention discussion of the Golge case.
Turkey in October also released an American pastor caught up in the crackdown, Andrew Brunson. His case had become a cause celebre among the conservative Christian base of Trump, who pressed Turkey through tariffs that sent the lira currency into a tailspin.
Golge’s case had triggered growing anger in the United States. A bipartisan group of senators recently introduced a bill seeking sanctions on Turkish officials involved in the detention of US citizens, saying that Ankara’s actions did not befit a NATO ally.
But Turkey still is at risk of US sanctions over its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system. Washington is pressing Ankara to instead buy the US Patriot equivalent.
Erdogan has said the S-400 purchase was a “done deal” but in the phone call with Trump reiterated an offer to form a joint working group on the decision, according to the Turkish president’s office.
The State Department voiced appreciation for Turkey as an ally but reiterated concerns about the deal, which US officials say could help Russia hone its system to target US hardware used by NATO.
“We’re willing to engage with the Turkish government but our position remains the same that Turkey will face very real and very negative consequences if it completes the delivery of the S-400,” Ortagus said.
The United States has already suspended Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program, in which Turkey had invested $1 billion.
Washington and Ankara have also clashed over Syria, with Trump promising to pull out all 2,000 US troops from the war-battered nation following a December phone conversation with Erdogan.
Trump has since slowed down the withdrawal partly because his aides fear that Turkey will use the absence of US troops to strike Syrian Kurdish fighters. The forces helped defeat extremists from the Daesh group, but Ankara associates them with separatists at home.


Syria Kurds call for humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians

Updated 17 October 2019

Syria Kurds call for humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians

  • The appeal for a civilian exit from Ras Al-Ain comes after Turkey's Syrian proxies hit a health facility in the town
  • Meanwhile US Secretary of State Mike arrived in Turkey in a bid to secure a cease-fire

Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria on Thursday issued a statement calling for a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from a flashpoint border town encircled by Ankara's forces.

The statement was released as Turkey's offensive entered its ninth day.

The appeal for a civilian exit from Ras Al-Ain comes after Turkey's Syrian proxies hit a health facility in the town, trapping patients and staff inside, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Turkey on Thursday in a bid to secure a cease-fire to halt the Turkish offensive in Syria.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived earlier on a separate plane. They are due to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The visit comes a day after Erdogan firmly ruled out any negotiations with Kurdish militants in Syria, saying their only option was to lay down arms and retreat.
The United States has demanded a cease-fire in Turkey’s more than week-old operation in northern Syria.

President Donald Trump, faced with mounting criticism over the abrupt pullout of US troops, has denied he gave Erdogan a “green light” to launch the offensive.

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