Top Turkish official visits US amid strained ties

Washington: A senior Turkish diplomat held talks Wednesday at the State Department to try to defuse the crisis between Washington and Ankara that erupted over the detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal, who sat down with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, did not speak to reporters before or after the visit.

In a brief statement, the State Department said only that the pair “discussed a range of bilateral matters including Pastor Brunson.”

The row between the NATO allies is seen by analysts as one of the most severe bilateral spats since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and comes on top of a host of other issues causing strain.

The two sides have slapped reciprocal sanctions on two senior officials on each side over the case of Brunson, who was first detained in October 2016 on terror-related charges.

Two weeks ago, Brunson — who ran a Protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir — was moved from jail to house arrest, but President Donald Trump called for his immediate release.

The tensions have pushed the already battered Turkish lira to new record lows, and Ankara seems keen to work on a solution.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Singapore last week, and the pair spoke again by telephone on Monday.

The Hurriyet newspaper reported that Turkey and the United States had reached a preliminary agreement over “certain issues” in the crisis and the details would be finalized in the delegation’s visit, but Washington threw cold water on the idea.

“If we had reached any type of agreement, I think you’d see Pastor Brunson back here at home,” department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday.

“The kind of progress that we want is for Pastor Brunson, our locally employed staff, and our other American citizens to be brought home. That’s the real progress that we’re looking for, and obviously we’re not there just yet.”

Nauert was referring to the detention of two local employees of US missions in Turkey on terror charges.

Other issues that have complicated US-Turkish ties include: US support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey sees as a terror group, and the US refusal to extradite US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara believes masterminded a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Agence France-Presse