Turkey, US in diplomatic crisis after ministers hit by sanctions

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan

In an extraordinary move directed at government officials of a fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country, the Treasury is freezing U.S. assets belonging to Abdulhamit Gul, the justice minister, and Suleyman Soylu, the interior minister.

Washington sanctioned Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu over the pastor's detention.

American pastor Andrew Brunson, right, has been accused by Turkey of complicity in a coup attempt.

Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for almost two decades, was arrested later that year and charged with complicity in the attempt to overthrow Erdogan's government. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the two men played leading roles in his 2016 arrest and later detention. Pompeo and Cavusoglu spoke by phone about Brunson's detention earlier Wednesday and are expected to meet on the margins of the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this week in Singapore, she said. Although the woman was released and deported to Istanbul, the Turkish court hearing Brunson's case agreed last week only to allow him to leave prison for house arrest while his trial continued.

A Turkish minister has defiantly mocked US sanctions against him, saying his only asset in the United States is a USA -based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup and wants extradited.

Turkish Foreign Ministry on Wednesday strongly protested against U.S. Treasury Department's decision, calling on the U.S. administration to reverse its "wrong decision".

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Pompeo said Trump had decided that sanctions were "the appropriate action". The other is the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Vice President Mike Pence urged Turkey to release Brunson or face consequences.

But on Wednesday he vowed Turkey would not give in to threats from the United States, accusing Washington of showing an "evangelist, Zionist mentality".

Brunson is one of tens of thousands of people - several of them Americans - detained on similar charges during the state of emergency declared by Erdogan in the wake of the 2016 failed coup bid.

Ankara meanwhile upset Washington by imprisoning two Turkish employees of American consulates in the country and holding another under house arrest on terror-related charges.

"President Trump has made it abundantly clear that the United States expects Turkey to release him immediately", Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the punitive measures against Gul and Soylu.

The sanctions rattled financial markets with the Turkish lira hitting five to the dollar for the first time in history.

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