Turkish officials to visit Washington amid tensions over detained pastor Andrew Brunson
By Alex Williams
Turkey is sending several officials to the United States this week to discuss increasingly strained relations between the two countries, influenced in part by the detention of an American pastor.
The State Department refused to confirm whether any US officials had agreed to meet in Washington with the delegation, which is being led by Turkey’s deputy foreign minister Sedat Onal.
A spokesperson also said no agreement has been reached concerning Andrew Brunson, an evangelical church leader accused of supporting a group Turkey blames for a failed coup two years ago.
Brunson, who is in his early 50s, is currently on house arrest in the coastal city of Izmir, amid a trial where he faces espionage and terror-related charges. He denies any wrongdoing.
Differing attitudes towards the conflict in Syria and trade issues have compounded a cooling of ties between the NATO allies.
Last week, the Trump administration announced Turkey’s duty-free access to the US market was being reviewed.
Ankara has imposed tariffs on US goods in response to tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium. The US is also imposing sanctions on two Turkish officials.
Brunson, who is originally from the Black Mountain area of North Carolina, faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty.
Supporters claim he is being held as a political pawn by Turkey as it hopes the US will extradite preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom it blames for an attempt to overthrow the government in July 2016.