Hours after Andrews Brunson was found guilty of aiding terror groups but subsequently released from prison due to having already served time in custody, Donald Trump was asked by a reporter if sanction relief in respect of Turkey would result from Brunson acquiring the freedom that Washington recently became desperate for him to have. Trump’s answer is that no sanction relief (and by extrapolation no tariff relief) would come as a result.
Trump justified his statement by saying that there was no secret deal between the US and Turkish governments to meddle in the Turkish judicial system’s findings nor sentencing in respect of Brunson. In this sense, both Trump and Turkey’s government are saying the same thing – that Brunson’s conviction and release from prison were the result of an independent judicial decision rather than a political one.
But where Trump is being insincere is when he attempts to link sanctions and tariffs to the absence of a secret deal. In reality, the sanctions placed on two Turkish officials, Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu and the 50% tariff increase on Turkish steel and aluminium were implemented by Washington specifically because Brunson was imprisoned. The Trump administration said so at the time on multiple occasions and the matter was never ambiguous – not in Turkey and not in the United States.
Therefore, logic would dictate that if the 50% tariff increase and the sanctions on Gul and Soylu were directly related to Brunson’s imprisonment, that the tariffs and sanctions should now be dropped as Brunson is no longer in prison.
The fact that when asked about this matter, Trump rebuffed the journalist who seemed to rightly expect that sanctions/tariff relief would come as America’s self-described reason for the tariffs/sanctions no longer exists, demonstrates that America’s disputes with its historic Turkish ally always went far beyond Brunson and self-evidently still do.
In actual fact, until the last several months, the matter of Andrew Brunson was if anything the least important of the many disputes between Ankara and Washington. America’s battlefield alliance in north-eastern Syria with the YPG/PKK terror group, the continuing uncertainty over US deliveries of the F-35 fighter jets that Turkey has ordered, America’s suspecious relationship with FETO and its America based leader, Turkey’s exercising of its sovereign rights to purchase Russian made S-400 missile defence systems and Turkey’s strong economic bonds with China and eager participation in the Belt and Road initiative, were all far more important to the long term strategic, economic and security goals of both nations than Brunson’s imprisonment.
However, as midterm Congressional and state elections became visible over America’s political horizon, the Trump administration and Vice President Mike Pence in particular took it upon themselves to make the Brunson issue the main focus of the disputes between Ankara and Washington. Ironically, while Pence and his cohorts present Brunson as an innocent Christian minster wrongfully detained in Turkey, the court whose decision Trump has admitted was not the result of any political intervention, has convicted Brunson of working with the Islamist terror cult FETO as well as the anarcho-communist terrorist organisation PKK. Both FETO and the PKK are a far cry from anything that most Americans would recognise as Christian.
Be that as it may, there is a further reason why the US appears to be looking to still inflict economic hybrid war on Turkey. Like the US, Israel once had healthy relations with Turkey but due to Turkey’s President Erdogan championing the Palestinian cause worldwide, he is now a figure of hate for Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. The power of the Israel lobby in the United States therefore remains the elephant in the room when it comes to delaying a much needed rapprochement between the United States and Turkey.
By building the Brunson issue up, the US still has a window of opportunity to patch things up with Turkey. This not only includes sanctions and tariff relief but the US could also benefit in the long term from at long last joining Turkey in fighting YPG/PKK terrorism in Manbij in northern Syria as both countries agreed to do in May of this year.
That being said, if Trump’s attitude when asked about Turkey yesterday is any indication of America’s short term policies towards its strained NATO partner, little meaningful change will take place in Turko-US relations, even now that Brunson is free to praise FETO and the PKK from US soil.