Turkey ‘won’t take step back’ against US: Erdoğan
Vahap Munyar – LUSAKA
The spat between Turkey and the United States over imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson and the threats of sanctions coming from Washington “will not intimidate Turkey,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.
“You [the U.S] cannot make Turkey take a step back through sanctions,” he told reporters in Zambia before returning to Ankara, referring to statements from U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and the U.S. Defense Ministry.
The latest remarks from Washington amount to “psychological warfare,” according to Erdoğan.
“In my opinion, these are all [parts of] psychological warfare,” he said.
On July 26, both Trump and Pence threatened Turkey with “sanctions” if Brunson, who was given house arrest on July 25 after staying behind bars for nearly two years on terrorism charges, was not freed.
Despite strongly-worded statements from both sides, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on July 27 that the two militaries remain “on good terms,” pointing to joint patrolling activities in the northern Syrian town of Manbij.
The U.S. Congress has been preparing a defense bill that would block the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey unless Ankara releases jailed U.S. citizens and employees and cancels the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia.
The president said Turkey may seek to resort to international arbitration if the sale of the F-35 jets to Ankara is blocked.
“If it comes to that point, there are alternatives,” he said. “We will continue with patience. But it should not be forgotten that we are not living in a world without alternatives,” he said.
“They imposed sanctions to Iran. What happened? Did Iran collapse? When [former U.S. President Barack] Obama told us back then, I said ‘I am sorry, but we are purchasing nat
ural gas from Iran. How else will I supply natural gas if I cannot buy it?’” he said.
“If the U.S. does not change this attitude they should not forget they will lose a sincere and strong partner like Turkey,” he added.
No bargain over Brunson for release of Turkish citizen
Referring to the reports, which alleged a deal had been brokered between Turkey and the U.S. for the release of Turkish national Ebru Özkan from an Israeli prison in return for the release
of Brunson, Erdoğan said Turkey “had never made Brunson a subject of bargain.”
“Ebru was already released but her passport was seized. We told her to ‘go to the embassy and stay there.’ They did not allow Ebru to leave Israel,” he said.
“We told the Americans they could help Ebru, who was released and is n
ot guilty, and facilitate her return to Turkey by giving her back her passport,” said the president.
“But we never said we would give them Brunson in return,” Erdoğan added.
“Along with this, Trump, a thanks to him, had called Netanyahu over the subject of Ebru. Thus, Netanyahu explained ‘Trump called me, so we have released her.’ But there has not been any bargaining as has been alleged,” he said.
Russia, Turkey agreed on Idlib
Erdoğan also discussed the next high level meeting on Syria, which will take place in the Russian province of Sochi next week and said the main agenda would be “stopping the clashes, the beginning of constitutional commission works, holding elections and vitalizing the political transition process.”
Elaborating on the meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the BRICS summit on July 26, the president said Russia and Turkey have discussed the issue on the northwestern province of Idlib, where Turkey has established 12 observation points.
“Our soldiers are present there. It is impossible for us to accept any attack from the Syrian regime. I have discussed it with Mr. Putin. We have agreed on that,” he said.
“If our Arab friends toward the north especially are to have a similar experience to that in Aleppo, it would be a serious problem for us,” Erdoğan added.