Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said Thursday the United States is prepared to put additional sanctions in place against Turkey if the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held since 2016.
“We’ve put sanctions on several of their cabinet members, working with you (President Donald Trump), we have more that we’re planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” Mnuchin told Trump during Thursday’s cabinet meeting.
During a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Trump had harsh words for the NATO ally saying, “They have not proven to be a good friend.” Trump added the pastor is a “very innocent man” and “we got somebody out for him – he needed help getting somebody out of some place. They came out. They want to hold our wonderful pastor. Not fair, not right.”
The threat of sanctions comes amid Trump’s concerns over Brunson, who is accused of being involved with an attempted coup that led to tens of thousands of people being arrested in 2016.
Tensions between Turkey and the US have been on the rise as Trump has pressed for the release of the pastor. US officials maintain there is no credible evidence against Brunson, and the Trump administration has negotiated for weeks to secure his release.
Last week, Trump announced on Twitter that he had green-lit a doubling of steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey, and warned that US relations with Turkey “are not good at this time!” Two sources with knowledge told CNN that the move stemmed from Trump’s frustration over Brunson’s detention.
Brunson was arrested in October 2016 and moved to house arrest in July. His transfer to house arrest came after Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to assist in Brunson’s release, Israeli and US officials told CNN at the time. A senior US official told CNN that in exchange for Turkey’s release of Brunson, Israel agreed to release Ebru Ozkan, a 27-year-old Turkish woman held in Israel on suspicion of aiding Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza.
CNN’s Eric Levenson and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.