US expects release of Pastor Brunson for further progress in ties with Turkey

US expects release of Pastor Brunson for further progress in ties with Turkey

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
US expects release of Pastor Brunson for further progress in ties with Turkey

The United States has set its sights on the release of Pastor Andew Brunson and other detained American citizens in Turkey, along with jailed U.S. consulate personnel, in order to make further progress in other areas of cooperation between Ankara and Washington. 

U.S. Embassy Charge D’affaires Philip Kosnett said there is a “strong sense of unity in Congress between Republicans and Democrats” on the release of Brunson, who has been in prison for more than 20 months on terror charges.

“There is a similar sense of unity between Congress and the administration that in order for the relationship between Turkey and the U.S. to progress we need to resolve that status not only for Brunson but also for other American citizens and local Turkish employees of U.S. missions who we feel are detained unjustly under the state of emergency,” Kosnett said in Ankara when asked about the outcome of a recent visit of senators to Ankara for release of the pastor.

“Of course there are many other issues between the U.S. and Turkey, but we think that resolving these cases will certainly improve the atmosphere and prospects for progress in other areas, just as the progress that the two governments had made in building new security arrangements in northern Syria, starting with Manbij, has helped to set a positive tone for the relationship more broadly,” Kosnett told reporters at the U.S. National Day reception on July 2.

Two senior members of the United States’ Senate, Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen, paid a previously undisclosed trip to the Turkish capital on June 29 to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a direct appeal for Brunson’s release.

Shaheen, a Democrat senator from New Hampshire and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, is the most vocal member of the U.S. Senate for sanctioning Turkey over the detention of Pastor Brunson. One of her congressional actions includes imposing a ban on the delivery of the F-35 aircrafts to Turkey.

Shaheen and Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, also visited Pastor Brunson in prison in the Aliağa district of İzmir before they were received by Erdoğan.

Both governments are completely “committed to rebuilding their relationship by overcoming significant issues” that have come up in the Turkey-U.S. relationship and are “committed to reestablishing the partnership that has served both countries for many decades,” he said.

“Starting at the very top, from President [Donald] Trump and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, there are very strong signals that rebuilding the Turkish-American relationship is an important priority,” the diplomat said.

The progress that Turkey and the U.S. have made building new security arrangements in northern Syria, starting with Manbij, served for the establishment of “a positive tone for the relationship more broadly,” Kosnett said.

The “two governments are working closely to ensure security and governance in Manbij goes through a transition where local people are responsible for their security and local people will have the voices to determine their future,” he said.

Noting that the U.S. military and Turkish military as we have seen working very closely for security arrangements there, the diplomat did not want to give details of the efforts there, saying “it is not helpful” when asked if the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) will start to withdraw on July 4, as the Turkish foreign minister had announced earlier.

“The YPG understands the situation and they have committed publicly and privately to cooperation in new arrangements. We will see what happens,” Kosnett said.

He also underlined that the deployment of Turkish and U.S. forces in northern Syria is fundamentally to protect citizens of Turkey, the U.S., and Syria against “all manifestations of terrorism.”

“There had been lots of rumors, nothing is official until the White House makes an announcement. I am confident President Trump wants to nominate a highly qualified individual as the ambassador to the Republic of Turkey,” he said when asked about recent news reports that Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David M. Satterfield would be nominated for Turkey.

Kosnett, who assumed the duties of Charge d’Affaires in 2017 upon the conclusion of Ambassador John Bass’ assignment in Turkey, will leave Ankara soon and will be replaced by another charge d’affaires since no official appointment is made for the position of U.S. ambassador to Ankara yet.

Last month, a roadmap for securing the region was unveiled following a meeting in Washington between Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The deal explicitly calls for the immediate withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij.

Ankara says the YPG is affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and objects to the presence of the group near its border as “it constitutes a clear and present danger.”

Light at the end of the tunnel for Pastor Brunson
Light at the end of the tunnel for Pastor Brunson

Andrew Brunson, Philip Kosnett, Turkey US