President Donald Trump’s administration rejected a request from Turkey to swap the U.S. pastor it has jailed on terrorism charges in exchange for relief from billions of dollars in U.S. fines against a major Turkish bank, The Wall Street Journal reported.
According to a senior White House official who spoke to the WSJ, the U.S. said it was unwilling to negotiate any other deals until the pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been on house arrest in Turkey for a year and a half, is released.
“A real NATO ally wouldn’t have arrested Brunson in the first place,” the senior White House official told WSJ.
Turkish officials have accused Brunson — whose release has become a rallying point for Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and evangelical Christians across the U.S. — of abetting those responsible for a failed military coup in July 2016. The Trump administration has asked Turkey for the release of Brunson, as well as other citizens being held on terrorism charges and three Turkish nationals who work for the U.S. government.
The bank, Halkbank, is facing billions of dollars in fines for allegedly defying U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Relations between the two countries are worse now than they’ve been in decades as the U.S. retaliates against Turkey with sanctions over Brunson’s prolonged imprisonment.