US to sanction Turkey over American pastor

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President 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.

Relations between the United States and Turkey are on the line in the dispute over pastor Andrew Brunson, Erdogan was quoted as saying by TRT Haber and other media.

Trump on Thursday threatened to impose “large sanctions” on Turkey unless it freed Brunson, who has worked in Turkey for more than 20 years and has been accused of helping the group Ankara says was behind a failed military coup in 2016.

The pastor, who has denied the charges, is now under house arrest and faces up to 35 years in jail if found guilty.

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

Brunson, who is from North Carolina, was transferred to house arrest last week after 21 months of detention in a Turkish prison.

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.

Brunson’s detention has deepened a rift between Washington and Ankara, which are also at odds over the Syrian war and Turkey’s plan to buy missile defenses from Russia.

It was not clear what would be the nature of sanctions threatened by Trump but Washington was already working on bills related to Turkey due to other issues of concern.

The U.S. Senate has demanded a block on sales of F-35 jets to Turkey unless Trump certifies that Turkey is not threatening NATO, purchasing defense equipment from Russia or detaining U.S. Citizens.

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