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U.S.-Turkey Crisis Could End 'Instantly' If Pastor Freed, Bolton Says


U.S. pastor Andrew Craig Brunson is escorted by Turkish plainclothes police officers to his house on in Izmir on July 25.

Turkey could end its currency crisis "instantly" by freeing a detained American pastor, U.S. President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, has told Reuters.

Washington has imposed sanctions against its NATO ally over imprisoned evangelical pastor Andrew Craig Brunson and has increased tariffs in a move that sent the Turkish currency, the lira, tumbling last week.

Brunson, currently under house arrest after more than 1 1/2 years in prison, faces up to 35 years in a Turkish prison if convicted there of espionage and terrorism-related charges.

Turkish prosecutors claim Brunson had ties with the U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has accused of orchestrating Turkey's failed 2016 military coup.

Brunson denies any wrongdoing.

"Look, the Turkish government made a big mistake in not releasing Pastor Brunson," Bolton told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Israel.

"Every day that goes by that mistake continues, this crisis could be over instantly if they did the right thing as a NATO ally, part of the West, and release pastor Brunson without condition."

Asked if Washington questioned Turkey's membership in NATO given the standoff, Bolton said: "That's not an issue at the moment. We're focused on pastor Brunson and the other Americans that the Turkish government's holding illegitimately and we expect that to get resolved."

Turkish authorities are holding more than a dozen other U.S. citizens, including a Turkish-American NASA scientist and a visiting chemistry professor from Pennsylvania, as well as three local staff members of the U.S. Consulate.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for Brunson's immediate release and threatened more sanctions.

Last week, Trump signed a defense spending bill that includes delaying the delivery of F-35 fighter jets pending a Pentagon report. U.S. lawmakers have been working to block their delivery in response to Brunson's arrest and Turkey's pledge to buy Russian S-400 missile systems.

Amid the heightened tensions, shots were fired at a security booth outside of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara early on August 20.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

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