US senators threaten to block loans for Turkey over pastor detention

Bill calls “to restrict loans from financial institutions until Turkey ends the unjust detention of US citizens”

(FILES) In this undated file photo made available by the Dogan News Agency on March 13, 2018 Andrew Brunson, a US pastor, is photographed in Izmir. US President Donald Trump urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to free the pastor in a tweet on July 18, 2018, after a Turkish court ordered the pastor, held for almost two years on terror charges, to remain in prison.  - Turkey OUT
 / AFP / DHA / STR

Following a Turkish court decision to continue the detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a prominent group of senators from both parties shot back at Ankara on Thursday introducing a bill that would restrict billions of dollars in international financial loans to Turkey until the release of the US citizen.

Late on Thursday in Washington, a group of six influential Republican and Democratic senators introduced a bill in direct response to the Turkish court ruling on Wednesday, which extended Mr Brunson’s detention until October. It calls “to restrict loans from international financial institutions to Turkey until the Turkish government ends the unjust detention of US citizens.”

The senators that introduced the bill are: Bob Corker (chairman of Senate foreign relations committee); Thom Tillis; and James Lankford, all Republicans. From the Democrats, Bob Menendez (ranking member on Senate foreign relations committee), Jeanne Shaheen and Bill Nelson.

In 2016, Turkey imprisoned Pastor Brunson and accused him of espionage. The ruling on Wednesday came despite US pressure and pleas to release him, including a letter from 66 senators to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan last April, followed by direct requests by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo to Turkish officials.

The new bill, dubbed the ‘Turkey International Financial Institutions Act’, directs “the US executive of the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to oppose future loans, except for humanitarian purposes, to Turkey by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and EBRD.”

Such blockage would occur until the administration can certify to Congress that Turkey is “no longer arbitrarily detaining or denying freedom of movement to United States citizens (including dual citizens) or locally employed staff members of the United States mission to Turkey.”

The numbers show Turkey’s vulnerability when it comes to loans if the bill were to pass. According to the senators’ statement, Turkey ranked second among all IFC recipients with $927 million in new long-term commitments, and was the largest EBRD borrower in 2017, securing about $1.8 billion in new commitments.

Aaron Stein, a senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for The Middle East, told The National that “Turkey has overplayed its hand on the detention of Mr Brunson.”

“They had a clear mechanism to signal a strong commitment to reset relations with Washington but let that moment slip away and have undercut their allies in the US government.”

US president Donald Trump expressed his dismay at the ruling on Twitter. Calling it “A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison”, he said Mr Erdogan “should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”

Mr Corker said that “with Turkey continuing to rebuff good faith efforts by Congress and the administration to resolve this, we must take further action until the rights of our citizens and employees in Turkey are respected.”

Ms Shaheen, who is sponsoring another bill on Turkey to block the F-35 jet deliveries until Mr Brunson is released and Ankara abandons the S-400 defence system deal with Russia, said that “Turkish officials can end this now by releasing the detained Americans. The United States and Turkey are NATO allies, and we should be working together like allies.”

Now that it’s introduced, the bill would require to pass the Senate foreign relations committee before a full Senate vote.