WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House national security adviser John Bolton met on Monday with Turkey’s ambassador to the United States to discuss Turkey’s detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, the White House said.
“At the Turkish ambassador’s request, Ambassador John Bolton met with Ambassador Serdar Kilic of Turkey (on Monday) in the White House. They discussed Turkey’s continued detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson and the state of the U.S.-Turkey relationship,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
U.S. officials said no deadline had been set for Brunson’s release, contradicting some media reports. Brunson is accused of backing a coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan two years ago, charges that he has denied.
“The fact that there’s ongoing discussions between the two countries regarding Brunson’s return to the U.S. is positive,” said Jay Sekulow, an attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump who is also representing Brunson’s family. “I look forward to the Brunson family returning to the U.S.”
Relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States are at a low point, hurt by Brunson’s detention, as well as diverging interests in Syria. Trump doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports last week, contributing to a precipitous fall in the lira.
U.S. officials have given no indication that the United States has been prepared to give any ground over the Brunson issue, with Trump seemingly content to keep up economic pressure.
The United States is also considering a fine against Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank for allegedly helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions. Earlier this month, the United States imposed sanctions on two top officials in Erdogan’s cabinet in an attempt to get Turkey to turn over Brunson.
Last week, Trump tweeted that “our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”
White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said the Trump administration was carefully monitoring the financial situation in Turkey after its currency fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar on Monday.
“We’re monitoring it very closely. Treasury Secretary (Steven) Mnuchin is monitoring it very closely,” Hassett, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told MSNBC.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Karen Freifeld; editing by Rosalba O’Brien and James Dalgleish)