WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department on Wednesday announced it had imposed sanctions on two top Turkish government officials whom the United States accused of playing a leading role in the detention of an American pastor being held on espionage charges.The move was an unusual use of financial sanctions against the government of a vital NATO…
WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department on Wednesday announced it had imposed sanctions on two top Turkish government officials whom the United States accused of playing a leading role in the detention of an American pastor being held on espionage charges.
The move was an unusual use of financial sanctions against the government of a vital NATO ally, and is sure to inflame tensions that were already simmering over Washington’s refusal to extradite a cleric suspected of leading a failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
The sanctions target Abdulhamit Gul, Turkey’s justice minister, and Suleyman Soylu, the interior minister. They were issued just days after President Trump warned the Turkish government to immediately release the pastor, Andrew Brunson — a demand he made directly last week in a telephone call with Mr. Erdogan.
The sanctions mark a rare public break between Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdogan, two combative leaders and allies in the ongoing military campaign against the Islamic State.
American-based cleric Fethullah Gulen — whom Turkey accuses of initiating the 2016 coup attempt — and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
The Treasury Department said Mr. Brunson was arrested with “an absence of evidence,” and it accused the Turkish officials of running entities involved in human rights abuses.
Initially, American officials had hoped that a deal was imminent to free Mr. Brunson, and the Trump administration was careful not to criticize Turkey too strongly after the pastor was moved to house arrest.
But after the phone call between the leaders, Mr. Trump made an abrupt announcement on Twitter that he would place “large sanctions” on Turkey for detaining Mr. Brunson. Days later, a Turkish court rejected Mr. Brunson’s appeal to be freed during his trial.
The men were sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes sanctions on foreign government officials for human rights abuses.