Jailed US pastor, Andrew Brunson is facing life imprisonment after a Turkish prosecutor demanded this sentence, according to Turkish media, on Tuesday, further complicating efforts find some sort of rapprochement between Washington and Ankara.
Brunson, a Protestant preacher who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was arrested in October 2016 and accused of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup three months earlier.
On Tuesday, prosecutors presented an indictment that charged Brunson with membership of and management of Mr Gulen’s movement, according to the Dogan news agency. The charges, which were accepted by a court in Izmir, carry a life sentence.
The charges come amid intensive efforts between US and Turkish officials to find solutions to the tension in their relationship. Ties between the two Nato members have plummeted to their lowest point in decades due to disagreements over Syria, the fallout from the 2016 coup attempt, the jailing of US citizens and consular staff in Turkey, the curtailment of military activities at key bases like Incirlik, as well as Ankara’s plans to purchase a Russian air defence system.
The launch of a Turkish military operation in the north-western Syrian enclave of Afrin has caused particular friction, ast the move is an attack on US-backed Kurdish YPG militia.
A life sentence for Mr Brunson is certain complicate efforts to find a resolution. US President Donald Trump has personally asked his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to facilitate Mr Brunson’s release, but the pastor has remained in jail for almost 18 months.
Mr Erdogan has suggested that he wants to organize a prisoner swap, handing over the American in exchange for the extradition of Mr Gulen, who lives in a mountain retreat in Pennsylvania. “You have one pastor as well,” Mr Erdogan said last year. “Give him [Gulen] to us. Then we will try him [Brunson] and give him to you.”
The case has added to growing frustration with Turkey on Capitol Hill, where members of Congress have been considering the prospect of imposing sanctions on Ankara. Two members of US consular staff, both of them Turkish citizens, are also behind bars.
Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, was to hold a meeting with, now defunct, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson in Washington next week to work towards a solution on some conflictoal issues between the two countries.
Mr Cavusoglu, on Tuesday, stated that the two countries had agreed to jointly oversee the withdrawal of the Kurdish YPG militia from the Syrian city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.
The departure of the militia from the town is a key demand from Ankara, and Mr Cavusoglu said that the details would be thrashed out next week in Washington. But, hours after that statement, the sudden sacking of Mr Tillerson by Mr Trump added a further complication.
Meanwhile, as Today's Zaman states Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım in response to question whether Tillerson's departure will affect relations said that Turkey-US relations do not depend upon individuals.