Ankara, Turkey – Turkey has said it is willing to speak with the US to resolve an ongoing dispute between the two NATO allies, as the White House appeared to ratchet up pressure on Ankara.
Speaking to a group of foreign ambassadors in Ankara on Wednesday evening, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu appeared to extend an olive branch to US President Donald Trump’s administration.
“Despite everything, we are ready to talk about everything to solve the existing problems as equal partners,” he said. “I speak openly but only on one condition – no threatening, no dictating.”
Cavusoglu also called on the US to “take into account our frustrations” with American policies.
His conciliatory remarks came as Washington said that tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium were unrelated to the case of Andrew Brunson, a Christian evangelical pastor held in Turkey on terrorism charges, and would remain even if he were to be released.
“The tariffs that are in place still would not be removed with the release of Pastor Brunson,” White House press secretary Sara Huckabee Sanders said.
“The tariffs are specific to national security,” she said, without specifying the nature of the national security concerns.
Pence: Turkey shouldn’t test Trump’s resolve
Last week, Trump announced the doubling of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium to 50 and 20 per cent respectively.
It followed the imposition of sanctions on two Turkish government ministers earlier this month that Sanders said were directly related to Brunson and “others that we consider are being held unfairly”.
As well as Brunson, whose appeal for release was turned down on Wednesday, Turkey is holding US consular staff who are Turkish nationals as well as US citizens, including NASA scientist Serkan Golge.
Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, Serdar Kilic, met National Security Adviser John Bolton on Monday in an apparently fruitless discussion about Brunson and worsening relations.
Washington’s uncompromising tone was echoed on Twitter by Vice President Mike Pence.
“Pastor Andrew Brunson is an innocent man held in Turkey & justice demands that he be released,” he wrote on Wednesday evening.
“Turkey would do well not to test @POTUS Trump’s resolve to see Americans who are wrongfully imprisoned in foreign lands returned home to the United States.”
Pastor Andrew Brunson is an innocent man held in Turkey & justice demands that he be released. Turkey would do well not to test @POTUS Trump’s resolve to see Americans who are wrongfully imprisoned in foreign lands returned home to the United States.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) August 15, 2018
Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, was arrested a few months after a July 2016 coup attempt and accused of links to the Gulen movement, widely believed to be behind the failed takeover.
He is also alleged to have ties to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a group accused of terrorism by Ankara that has fought Turkey for more than 30 years.
Demands for his release led to the US imposing sanctions on the Turkish justice and interior ministers in early August and the issue has become the main dispute among a series of disagreements between Ankara and Washington.
These include the US’ refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based leader of the group that bears his name; Washington’s support for PKK-linked Kurdish fighters in Syria; and Turkey’s plan to buy the S-400 missile defence system from Russia.
Earlier this week, the US suspended military sales to Turkey, including the F-35 fighter jet that Turkey has been closely involved in developing.
The tariffs compounded an ongoing currency crisis in Turkey, sending the lira tumbling to a record low. The lira rallied earlier this week and recovered to 5.75 to the dollar on Thursday morning, a gain of more than 5 percent.
The currency was helped by Qatar’s announcement that it was ready to invest $15bn in the Turkish financial sector. The move came as Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani visited President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.
Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak is expected to hold a conference call with investors at 13:00 GMT on Thursday in a bid to ease concerns.
Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper said some 3,000 investors are expected to participate in the meeting, including representatives from Citi, Deutsche Bank, Dome Group and HSBC.
The tariffs and foreign speculation on the lira has seen a backlash in Turkey, with people exchanging their dollar savings for local currency.
Qatar’s ambassador, Saleem Mubarak al-Shafi, also revealed that Qataris had bought millions of dollars worth of liras to back the Turkish economy.
Meanwhile, in a reference to the attempted takeover two years ago, Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency, tweeted that Turkey was “fending off this economic coup attempt”.
In a reciprocal move to American restrictions, Turkey announced the doubling of tariffs on US goods including cars, alcohol, tobacco, rice, coal and cosmetics. This following Edogan’s call for Turks to boycott US electronic items.