Washington - As threatened, the U.S. will impose sanctions on two Turkish officials over a detained American pastor who is being tried on espionage and terror-related charges, the White House announced Wednesday. Turkey quickly said the action would harm the two countries' relations and promised retaliation "without delay."
President Donald Trump warned last week that he would impose sanctions against Turkey, a key NATO ally, for its treatment of Andrew Craig Brunson in a case that has strained U.S.-Turkish relations. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his government wouldn't back down and was willing to "go its own way" if the U.S. did act.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the sanctions by the Treasury Department would target Turkey's justice and interior ministers, whose agencies she said were responsible for the pastor's arrest and detention.
"We've seen no evidence that Pastor Brunson has done anything wrong, and we believe he is a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey," Sanders said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Turkish government refused to release Brunson "after numerous conversations between President Trump and President Erdogan," along with his conversations with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosuglo. "President Trump concluded that these sanctions are the appropriate action," Pompeo said.
In Ankara, Turkey protested, called on the U.S. to reverse its decision and promised to "respond in kind without delay" against what it described as an aggressive stance by the Trump administration. It did not elaborate on possible measures.
A Foreign Ministry statement called the sanctions a "disrespectful intervention in our legal system" that would harm "the constructive efforts toward resolving problems between the two countries."
The Turkish currency dropped to an all-time low against the dollar following the announcement of the sanctions, trading at just over 5 lira against the dollar.
Brunson, 50, detained by Turkish authorities on October 7, 2016, claiming that he was a spy and had connections to a terrorist group, following a failed coup.
He was recently released to home detention. He faces a prison sentence of up to 35 years if he is convicted on both counts at the end of his ongoing trial.
The evangelical pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, has lived in Turkey for 23 years and led Izmir Resurrection Church.
Under the sanctions to be imposed by the Treasury Department, any property, or interest in property, belonging to Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul or Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu within U.S. jurisdiction would be blocked. Americans would generally be prohibited from doing business with them.
The Turkish president previously connected Brunson's return to the U.S. to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen. Ankara blames Gulen for the coup attempt, while the cleric denies involvement.