U.S. threatens to sanction Turkey over detained American preacher

U.S. threatens to sanction Turkey over detained American preacher

Donald Trump has threatened North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey with "large sanctions" over its detention of a United States pastor held on suspicion of terror offences and spying.

Turkey's Vice President Fuat Oktay on Thursday criticised US President Donald Trump's sanctions threat on Ankara over pastor Andrew Brunson, saying American partners must respect the decisions of the Turkish judiciary, which decides on behalf of the nation.

The US leader wrote, "The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being".

Relations between Turkey and the United States have already been strained after a Turkish banker who helped Iran evade U.S. sanctions was convicted in the USA in January.

He was an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan until their 2013 public falling-out led the government to declare Gulen's network a terror group. "Release Pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences".

Brunson was transferred to house arrest Wednesday after being detained in the Aegean province of Izmir in December 2016. And they say he's a spy, but he's not a spy, ' Trump said then.

US pastor Andrew Brunson reacts as he arrives at his home after being released from the prison in Izmir, Turkey, July 25, 2018.

The president's threat follows an equally strong warning from Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke Thursday at the first ever global conference on religious freedom.

It is thought standing up for a pastor will be appreciated by his Christian supporters.

Turkey on Friday hosted an American delegation for talks to address concerns about the potential negative impact on its economy of the looming reimposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Trump could impose certain sanctions unilaterally or try to act through Congress. Senators have previously taken steps toward blocking the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey, citing Brunson's detention as an instance of Erdogan's disregard for the rule of law. However, the White House did not issue a readout of the call.

The tweet came shortly after Trump's deputy, Vice President Mike Pence, warned of "significant" sanctions on Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally.

It said Brunson's defence had been completed and evidence for the case was nearly all collected.

US President Donald Trump had described the latest ruling to keep him in jail a "disgrace", calling on his Erdogan to help free him. One of Brunson's attorneys is Jay Sekulow, who also represents Trump in the Russian Federation investigation.

Brunson served as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation, and has lived in Turkey for 23 years.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told American lawmakers that the release of Brunson from prison is an "indicator of diplomatic progress" but the "work is not done". Turkey considers the group linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) it bans at home, with the Americans using the fighters in its efforts to root out Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants. Pompeo said the US would provide $17 million for de-mining efforts in Nineveh, an area of Iraq historically home to numerous country's religious minorities.

He was among 20 USA citizens arrested and charged after the failed coup.

Erdogan has in the past linked Brunson's fate with that of the US -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The Trump administration escalated the pressure campaign to free Andrew Brunson a day after a court ordered that he be moved to house arrest after 21 months in detention. Gulen denies any involvement in the coup, in which at least 250 people were killed. The crackdown has targeted journalists, activists and opposition figures.

On July 18, the court rejected his defense lawyers' pleas to let him go and remanded Brunson in custody pending a fourth hearing on October 12.