01:45 GMT24 November 2020
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    Although US President Donald Trump did threaten Turkey with "large sanctions" Thursday if American Pastor Andrew Brunson isn't released soon, 45 is likely only acting out because he's forced to do so by critics, Gönül Tol, the founding director of The Middle East Institute's Center for Turkish Studies, told Sputnik.

    Brunson, who lived and worked in Turkey for more than 20 years, was arrested three months after the failed July 2016 coup attempt. As Sputnik previously reported, the 50-year-old had been accused of being affiliated with the movement led by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Turkish officials have accused of orchestrating the failed coup. Gülen currently resides in Pennsylvania.

    After spending months in prison, the pastor was moved out of his cell and placed under house arrest on Wednesday due to health concerns. Brunson could face up to 35 years in prison if he is convicted.

    In recent weeks, Trump has escalated talks with Turkey by criticizing Brunson's detention, saying that the pastor "has done nothing wrong" and that the US will enact "large sanctions" to push for his release.

    ​Tol told Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear on Friday that the Brunson fiasco is just "the latest blow" to damage US-Turkish relations.

    In 2017, both the US and Turkey suspended visa services for travel between the two counties after employees from the US consulate in Turkey were arrested in Istanbul.

    "Recent events have forced the United States government to reassess the commitment of the government of Turkey to the security of US mission and personnel," an October 2017 statement released by US officials read at the time. Ankara released a mirrored statement some 24 hours afterwards.

    And then, of course, there was the May 2017 bodyguard incident that took place outside of the Turkish embassy in Washington, DC.

    However, despite all of the setbacks and outrage Americans have expressed over Turkey, Tol told show hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou that Trump likely still wants to "have close ties to [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan."

    "I think the pressure on President Trump is mounting," she said. " I think there's a lot of pressure on President Trump to play hardball with Erdoğan."

    "The case of Andrew Brunson is the easiest case for [Erdoğan] to give the US what it wants," she added.

    Some reports suggested that Trump attempted to strike a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release a Turkish woman detained in Tel Aviv so that Turkey would be more inclined to allow Brunson to walk free. However, that deal reportedly fell apart.

    New sanctions against Turkey over Brunson's imprisonment have not yet been announced.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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