Trump imposes sanctions over Turkey's detaining of minister

Angela Merkel with President Erdogan in Instanbul in 2015

Angela Merkel with President Erdogan in Instanbul in 2015GUIDO BERGMANN GETTY

The State Department has said they're being held as hostages for the goal of extracting concessions on other points of contention in the Turkey-U.S. relationship. Turkey has waged a two-year effort to have Gulen extradited from the United States.

Last week, Brunson was allowed to leave prison and remain under house arrest, but his request to leave Turkey was denied.

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier warned the USA not to impose sanctions against his government. "There's no credible evidence of any wrongdoing against him", Pence said.

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Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, quickly responded, also via Twitter: "No one dictates Turkey".

A Turkish justice ministry spokesman did not immediately comment on the sanctions. Pompeo and Cavusoglu spoke by phone about Brunson's detention earlier Wednesday and are expected to meet on the margins of the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this week in Singapore, she said.

"Turkey knows our position well: Pastor Brunson must be released from house arrest and brought back home", Pompeo's spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters travelling with him.

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But they are not altogether unexpected: Both President Trump and Vice President Pence have both lately threatened retaliation over the status of Andrew Brunson, whom Turkish authorities detained in October 2016.

The two officials targeted by sanctions "played leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention" of Brunson, the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in a statement. Sanctions under the act allow for the seizure of assets in the USA, travel bans and prohibitions on doing business with US entities. Since July 15, 2016, the Turkish government has arrested 80,147 people on muddled charges of being tied to Fethullah Gülen, a Pennsylvania-based moderate political foe of Erdoğan. Ozkan had been detained by Israel on terror-related charges, but was deported this month. As the regime has raised the topic of seeking Gülen's extradition with the USA government, it's believed the Americans have been detained as potential swap leverage. Ankara blames Gulen for the coup attempt, while the cleric denies involvement.

Brunson's detention has deepened a rift between Washington and Ankara, which are also at odds over the Syrian war, Turkey's plan to buy a missile defense system from Russian Federation, and planned US sanctions on Iran - which supplies fuel to Turkey.

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