Here is the Brunson row in Erdoğan’s words
If you rely on American media stories about the Brunson row between the United States and Turkey, based on information given by unnamed officials, this was the story behind it: The U.S. President Donald Trump and the Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan made a deal during their conversation on July 11 in Brussels on the margin of the NATO Summit over the release of the evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been under arrest in Turkey for nearly 20 months.
According to the American media on July 27, the deal was Trump would help the release of a Turkish woman, Ebru Özkan, from an Iraeli jail and in return, Erdoğan would release Brunson. Trump had called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and after Özkan had been released and returned to Turkey, Erdoğan had not kept his promise, according to official sources quoted by American media.
The court did not release Brunson in the July 18 hearing and gave him house arrest in the July 25 hearing due to the condition of his health, based on his lawyer’s reasoning in the application. This outraged U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who threatened Turkey with sanctions in a religious conference, and later on fixed it on his Twitter page. Pence was followed by Trump, who said the continued arrest of Brunson was a disgrace and if Turkey did not release Brunson, “large sanctions” would be imposed.
The deal according to Turkish media quoting unnamed official sources on July 28 was quite different. Yes, Erdoğan had mentioned the Ebru Özkan case to Trump, but that was not the actual deal. The case of Hakan Atilla, the manager of the public lender Halkbank who is convicted of helping the violation of sanctions on Iran for more than 15 months should also be sent to a Turkish prison. And it was actually Trump who misperceived it as a bargain and Trump was under the provocation of Pence.
Some of those who wrote on the matter went on to advise Trump he should not listen to Pence and listen to U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have been in contact with Turkish counterparts.
Both versions lacked reasonable ground for a start and ironically because of similar reasons. If there was a bargain that took place between Trump and Erdoğan over the release of Brunson, which has not been explicitly confirmed by both sides, the release of Ebru Özkan, or even the return of the imprisoned banker to Turkey would not be comparable with the arrest of Brunson. Özkan was detained on accusations of smuggling money and perfume to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Brunson is in jail accused of helping two terrorist organizations, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the illegal network of the U.S.-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen who is accused of masterminding the 2016 military coup attempt in Turkey. The level of importance attached to the Brunson case by both Trump and Erdoğan is high; much higher than the bargaining chips alleged by both American and Turkish media.
In the meantime, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Pompeo had two telephone conversations.
Then Erdoğan gave his account about the Brunson row on his way back from an Africa tour upon questions of reporters on board his plane. Here is what he said:
“The change of attitude [since the fist-bump in Brussels] is Trump’s problem. We don’t find it right that those [remarks] which were not spoken were presented as if they were. A request had been made through our Foreign Minister for the release of Ebru Özkan. Ebru had actually been released by [Israeli authorities] before but her passport was not given back. We told the Americans they could help her return by making [the Israelis] return her passport. We did not say “We will give them Brunson in return.” There was no such bargain. Netanyahu’s statement was “Trump made a call and we released her.”
“In Turkey, the judiciary has ruled for the house arrest of Brunson with good will, considering his health condition. Instead of paying respect to the [court’s] decision, they are shifting the issue into a problem of sanctions for Turkey. You cannot get Turkey to back-paddle with sanctions.”
This is the recent Brunson row in Erdoğan’s words. Erdoğan also commented on the current state of Turkish-American relations as follows:
“It is said they will stop creditors from giving credit to Turkey. Have we [Turkey] come to this point with creditors? We will continue to struggle for independence and a future. We are not dependent on America. The U.S. should keep in mind that if it will not change this attitude, it may lose a strong and sincere partner like Turkey.”
“The U.S. has not payed its dues as an ally. The weapons they delivered to terrorist organizations [in Syria, Iraq] are now sold in marketplaces. Have those who are asking us to give up S-400s, asked the same thing from Greece for S-300s?”
“They have not. We also have different projects for our future. They are threatening us from another angle; they say they will not deliver the F-35s. We told them if they don’t, we will go to international arbitration. It should not be forgotten that we are no longer in a world without any alternatives.”
It seems a lot of diplomacy is needed to be able to put relations back on track, if that is possible at all.