Turkey never used Brunson as a bargaining chip - President Erdoğan

Turkey’s president Erdoğan broke his silence about the U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanction threats and said that Turkey never used Pastor Andrew Brunson as a bargaining chip, Sözcü newspaper reported on Sunday.

Erdoğan told reporters during his Africa tour that Turkey and the United States have been negotiating various legal issues, including the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, who Turkish government accuses of masterminding the coup attempt in 2016, and the case of Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker sentenced to 32 months in prison in the United States for his part as former deputy general manager of Turkish state-owned Halkbank in a complex scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“We never used Brunson as a bargaining chip,” Erdoğan said. “Regarding the case of Brunson, considering his health problems, the judiciary in Turkey with good intentions decided to move him to house arrest. Instead of respecting the decision of the judiciary, they make this an issue for imposing sanctions on Turkey,” Erdoğan added, noting that Turkey would not step back as a result of sanction threats.

Erdoğan denied the allegations about a US-Turkey deal for the release of Brunson, in exchange for the release of Ebru Özkan, a Turkish woman imprisoned in Israel accused of ties to Hamas. According to Erdoğan, as Özkan was released in Israel but her passport was seized, the Turkish Foreign Ministry asked from the United States to help Özkan leave the country. “But we never said we will give Brunson in return,” Erdoğan said. 

Erdogan also said on July 28 the spat between Turkey and the United States over imprisoned American pastor Brunson and the threat of sanctions coming from Washington amounts to “pyschological warfare.”

“In my opinion, these are all [parts of] pyschological warfare,” he told reporters in Zambia before returning to Ankara, referring to statements from U.S. President Trump, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and the U.S. Defense Ministry, HDN reported.

Erdoğan also talked about a bill restricting U.S. loans to Turkey that was passed by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations during its meeting on Thursday. “They are to block credit institutions loans to Turkey. Did we come to this points with those institutions,” Erdoğan said. The president warned that the United States would lose a " strong and sincere ally" if it does not change its attitude regarding the matter.

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence announced on Thursday that the United States would impose sanctions on Turkey if Pastor Brunson’s detention continued. Despite the U.S. authorities repeated calls for his release, Brunson was moved to house arrest on Wednesday, after nearly two years in prison facing charges of supporting both a banned Islamist group and left-wing Kurdish armed rebels.

Erdogan, during the same press briefing also reminded that the West and the U.S. are not giving the type of weapons his government has asked for, and that his government will not change its mind about the S-400 air defense system, added, ''We have different projects with regards to the future. I cannot know whether the U.S. and European countries are aware of [those plans]."