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US Will Impose Sanctions on Turkey Over Detention of American Pastor
President Donald Trump said that the United States will impose sanctions on Turkey over its protracted detainment of an American pastor. "The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!" Trump wrote on Twitter on July 26. Shortly before Trump's announcement, Vice President Mike Pence threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey if the country continues to detain Andrew Brunson, the American pastor from North Carolina who is at the epicenter of tensions between Washington and Ankara. Speaking at a three-day ministerial on religious freedom, Pence said "the United States of America will impose significant sanctions on Turkey" if Pastor Andrew Brunson is not freed. Brunson was moved from jail to house arrest on July 26 due to health problems, according to Turkey's official news agency. The 50-year-old spent a year and a half in jail awaiting the conclusion of his trial. "Brunson is an innocent man, there is no credible evidence against him," Pence said. Trump had previously called Brunson's detention "a total disgrace" and issued repeated calls for the pastor's release. The United States and Turkey are both members of NATO. The U.S. Senate passed a bill in June prohibiting Turkey from buying F-35 fighter jets because of Brunson's imprisonment and Turkey's purchase of Russia's S-400 air defense system. Turkey accuses Brunson of "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member" and of espionage. He faces 35 years in prison if convicted. Brunson denies all charges. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that the United States extradite his political rival, Fethullah Gulen, in exchange for Brunson's release. Turkey accuses Gulen of orchestrating a 2016 military coup. Gulen denies the charges. Gulen is a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania. The United States has not granted Turkey's extradition requests. Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases that have raised tensions between Washington and Ankara. A U.S. judge sentenced a Turkish bank executive in May to 32 months in prison for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions, while two locally employed U.S. consulate staff in Turkey have been detained. The NATO allies are also at odds over U.S. policy in Syria, where Washington’s ally in the fight against Islamic State is a Kurdish militia Turkey says is an extension of the PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey. A Turkish court declined an offer from Brunson's lawyer at a recent hearing to release the pastor pending the conclusion of the trial. Brunson was pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third-largest city, south of the Aegean town of Aliaga where he is now on trial. His lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said on July 18 the prosecution has added the testimonies of two new anonymous witnesses to the case and that the court will hold its next hearing on Oct. 12 to hear them and view new evidence. Brunson is a Christian pastor from North Carolina. He has lived in Turkey for more than two decades. “My service that I have spent my life on, has now turned upside down. I was never ashamed to be a server of Jesus but these claims are shameful and disgusting,” Brunson told the court in the town of Aliaga.