Erdogan blinks in US row

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Asianbangla Desk : President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday said Turkey would impose sanctions on two US officials in retaliation for a similar move by Washington in a row over the detention of an American pastor. AFP

Turkey’s holding of pastor Andrew Brunson on terror-related charges for almost two years has sparked one of the most intense crises between the Nato allies in years.

But in his first comments on the dispute since Washington imposed the sanctions on Wednesday, Erdogan also appeared keen to ward off any further escalation by saying that neither side had an interest in a “lose-lose” scenario.

“Today I will give our friends instructions to freeze the assets in Turkey of the American justice and interior ministers, if they have any (such assets),” Erdogan said in a televised speech.

He did not specify to which members of the US administration he was referring.

The US attorney general is Jeff Sessions and while the United States does not have an interior ministry similar to Turkey, the Secretary of the Interior is Ryan Zinke and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is Kirstjen Nielsen.

Erdogan’s announcement was a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s decision to impose sanctions on Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul.

The sanctions freeze any property or assets on US soil held by the two ministers, and bar US citizens from doing business with them.

Both Turkish ministers have denied having any assets in the US and it is highly unlikely the American officials would have assets in Turkey, making the sanctions largely symbolic.

But analysts say the row could be hugely damaging for Turkey’s fragile economy and tougher measures could be imposed if Brunson is not freed.

“There is a risk of more sanctions to come… which could hit more directly at the heart of Turkish government interests and which have the potential to cause a run on the lira,” Anthony Skinner, director of Middle East and North Africa at risk management consultants Verisk Maplecroft, told AFP.

And Erdogan appeared to indicate that he did not want the crisis to escalate further to full-scale economic sanctions.

“We don’t want to be a party to lose-lose games. Moving political and judicial disputes into an economic dimension will be harmful for both sides,” Erdogan said.

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