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Pastor row: US and Turkey hold 'constructive' talks

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu discussed the detention of Andrew Brunson
Brunson was arrested after being accused of being involved in the failed July 2016 military coup (AFP)

Top diplomats from Turkey and the United States agreed on Friday to work towards a solution to the diplomatic spat that has erupted over the arrest of a US pastor, which has already resulted in Washington slapping sanctions on Ankara.

Andrew Brunson, who led a Protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, was placed under house arrest last week following nearly two years in jail on charges of espionage and supporting terror groups.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Singapore, their first meeting since the crisis began.

Both Cavusoglu and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert described the conversation as constructive. "They agreed to continue to try to resolve the issues between our two countries," Nauert said.

The two countries have a strong, historical relationship. This morning’s meeting showed the will to work together. We are now at a better point than yesterday with the US

- Berat Albayrak, Turkish finance and treasury minister

Speaking to Turkish television channels, Cavusoglu struck an upbeat tone.

"Of course you can't expect all issues to be resolved in a single meeting," he said. "But we have agreed to work together, closely cooperate and keep the dialogue in the coming period."

Berat Albayrak, Turkey's finance and treasury minister and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son-in-law, on Friday played down the idea that strains between the two countries would continue in the long term.

“The two countries have a strong, historical relationship. This morning’s meeting showed the will to work together. We are now at a better point than yesterday with the US. Our relationship will never be cut,” he said.

Speaking on Friday ahead of the meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that US sanctions on Turkey showed America is "very serious" about Brunson's release. 

"The Turks were on notice that... it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned," Pompeo told reporters in Singapore. 

"Brunson needs to come home, as do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government. 

"They've been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people. "

On the sanctions, he said: "I hope they'll see this for what it is, a demonstration that we're very serious."

Sanctions and counter-sanctions

On Wednesday, Washington moved to block the assets of Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in the US and prohibit American citizens from "engaging in transactions with them".

Turkey's foreign ministry previously said it would retaliate against Washington's decision, calling it a "hostile stance". It urged Trump to reconsider the sanctions.

How did the jailing of a US pastor lead to sanctions on Turkey?
Read More »

In a statement announcing the sanctions, the US Department of the Treasury said Gul and Soylu are the leaders of organisations that have engaged in "serious human rights abuse".

"Pastor Brunson’s unjust detention and continued prosecution by Turkish officials is simply unacceptable," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately."

The Turkish lira, which has been in decline against the dollar for most of 2018, fell to a record low of five to the dollar on Wednesday, after dropping 1.7 per cent following the sanctions announcement. 

Two Turkish employees of US consulates in Turkey are also currently in jail on terror charges, and another is under house arrest, while several Americans have been caught up in the crackdown that followed a failed 2016 coup.

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