US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Singapore to seek the release of detained American pastor.
Friday’s meeting on the sidelines of the Southeast Asian security conference comes just days after the US hit senior Turkish officials with sanctions over the case, straining ties between the NATO allies.
Pompeo also said he would be seeking the release of several local employees of the US diplomatic missions in Turkey.
The Turkish foreign minister told his US counterpart that threats won’t work. “We have said from the start that the other side’s threatening language and sanctions will not get any result. We repeated this today,” Cavusoglu told reporters after the meeting.
The Evangelical Christian pastor, Andrew Craig Brunson, was arrested in December 2016 following a failed coup on charges of “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member” and espionage.
Pompeo defended Wednesday’s sanctions as a sign of how seriously the administration takes Brunson’s case.
“The Turks were on notice that the clock had run out and it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned and I hope they’ll see this for what it is: a demonstration that we’re very serious,” he told reporters on board his plane as he flew to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“We consider this one of the many issues that we have with the Turks,” Pompeo added.
He did not elaborate but Washington and Ankara have been at odds over numerous matters, including Turkey’s continued detention of three Turkish employees of the US consulate in Istanbul, as well as military activity in northern Syria, and Turkey’s plans to buy an advanced air defence system from Russia.
“Brunson needs to come home as do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government,” he said.
Brunson and the US government vehemently deny the charges.
Last week, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey if Brunson were not immediately released.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected the US demands, saying his government won’t back down and is willing to “go its own way” if the US acted.
The Turks have also vowed to retaliate for the sanctions “without delay.”
The Turkish foreign ministry called the sanctions a “disrespectful intervention in our legal system” that would harm “the constructive efforts towards resolving problems between the two countries.”
Although he was released to home detention, he faces a prison sentence of up to 35 years if he is convicted on both counts at the end of his ongoing trial.
The pastor has lived in Turkey for 23 years and led the Izmir Resurrection Church.
Under the sanctions to be imposed by the Treasury Department, any property, or interest in property, belonging to Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul or Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu within US jurisdiction would be blocked. Americans would generally be prohibited from doing business with them.
Erdogan has denied speculation that there had been an agreement to swap Brunson for Turkish citizens being held abroad, particularly 27-year-old Ebru Ozkan. Ozkan had been detained by Israel but was deported to Turkey this month.
Erdogan has also warned that Turkey would seek international arbitration if the US refused to deliver F-35 fighter jets in retaliation.