The Treasury Department on Wednesday announced it had imposed sanctions on two top Turkish government officials whom the United States accused of playing a leading role in the detention of an American pastor being held on espionage charges.
The move was an unusual use of financial sanctions against the government of a vital NATO ally, and is sure to inflame tensions that were already simmering over Washington’s refusal to extradite a cleric suspected of leading a failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
The sanctions target Abdulhamit Gul, Turkey’s justice minister, and Suleyman Soylu, the interior minister. They were issued just days after President Trump warned the Turkish government to immediately release the pastor, Andrew Brunson — a demand he made directly last week in a telephone call with Mr. Erdogan.
The sanctions mark a rare public break between Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdogan, two combative leaders and allies in the ongoing military campaign against the Islamic State.
“Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately.”
At the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, said Mr. Gul and Mr. Soylu both played “leading roles” in the pastor’s arrest and detention, and that Mr. Trump had personally ordered the sanctions be imposed.
Of Mr. Brunson, she said: “We have seen no evidence he has done anything wrong, and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust detention by the government of Turkey.”
Before the sanctions were announced, Mr. Erdogan told reporters in Ankara that threats against Turkey “will not be appropriate,” especially given the country’s “highest level of solidarity at NATO” for the United States.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Adam Goldman