Addressing his parliament on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at the United States over sanctions against Turkey and Iran, which have served to squeeze both countries and resulted in massive inflation. Crucially, he remained defiant over the case of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, which have plunged ties with Washington to their lowest, saying the preacher of has “dark ties with terror”.
“The US has embarked on a false path of solving political problems not through negotiations, but through the language of blackmail and threats,” Erdogan said in a speech. Though the public Ankara-Washington back and forth over the 2-year detained Brunson’s fate throughout the summer appeared to have cooled down over the past month, Erdogan directed his ire at the Trump White House, which he said “lost its credibility engaging in a trade war with the world” in reference to recent sanctions hitting Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey.
Erdogan vowed that Turkey will fight within legal and diplomatic frameworks, saying it will not back down on Brunson matter, but that it will persevere through “this crooked understanding, which imposes sanctions using the excuse of a pastor who is tried due to his dark ties with terror organizations.”
However he still held out hope that “the US leadership will sooner or later change its wrong attitude towards our country” and that bilateral relations will normalize in the future.
He also particularly highlighted Washington’s “unfair” pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last May: “It’s absolutely wrong to use sanctions when all the issues can be easily solved through monitoring, carried out by the international organizations,” he said. He further explained the domino effect this has set off for all neighbors in the region.
“It’s paramount for us that Iran isn’t isolated from political decisions that shape the future of the region,” Erdogan said, and added that the Turkish economy “is strong enough and will not to succumb to threats and attacks” by the Americans.
Of course, no Erdogan speech could possibly leave out the Kurdish issue either: the Turkish president charged Washington on this front with “continuing to cooperate with terrorist organizations.” He reiterated the longstanding goal of completely eradicating PKK-linked groups from Iraq and Syria — the bulk of which the US is directly aligned with.
Perhaps seeking to cool or at least pause tensions last week while attending the United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan had noted that Pastor Brunson’s fate is a judicial matter, distancing himself from the contentious issue which effectively led to a summer long diplomatic war with Washington, resulting in the Turkish lira losing more than 45 percent of its value this year.
In comments made last Wednesday, he said “As the president, I don’t have the right to order his release. Our judiciary is independent. Let’s wait and see what the court will decide.” Erdogan also claimed the severely ailing economy had nothing to do with the diplomatic feud with the US: “The Brunson case is not even closely related to Turkey’s economy. The current economic challenges have been exaggerated more than necessary and Turkey will overcome these challenges with its own resources,” he claimed.
But Monday’s speech before parliament is likely an attempt to save face domestically while simultaneously negotiating with Washington.
According to a recent report detailing the status of Pastor Brunson’s case in Middle East Eye:
But the shrill tone and tit-for-tat tariff slapping has lulled lately.
The calm, according to a Turkish diplomat, comes after Ankara, under pressure to stem the country’s economic freefall, told Washington that the conflict could only be resolved if the public squabbling stopped.
The Turkish diplomat cited in the report said further, “We knew we had to solve the problem and normalize our relations with the US for the sake of Turkey’s economy, but it was not possible to do that amid challenging statements.” He continued, “So we both decided to prevent any more escalation and solve the problem quietly.”
Brunson is due in court October 12 and has recently been placed under house arrest pending trial — a concession made by Turkey after Congress voted to halt sale of Lockheed Martin produced F-35 stealth fighter jets — which proves Turkey is willing to bend.
Likely, Erdogan’s bark as presented before his own parliament is much worse that his bite in dealing with US officials.