The United States does not intend to remove its tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Turkey, even if Turkey decides to release US pastor Andrew Brunson, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday.
“The tariffs on steel will not be removed with the release of Pastor Brunson. Tariffs are specific to national security, but the sanctions that were placed in Turkey are specific to Pastor Brunson and others, which we feel are imprisoned unjustly,” Sanders told reporters.
The sanctions that could be removed are those imposed against Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu for allegedly having “leadership roles” in Pastor Andrew Brunson’s prison as well as other “human rights abuses.”
Sanders said that the counter-tariffs imposed by Turkey on Wednesday were regrettable and a step in the wrong direction.
While the United States imposed tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum, and then doubled prices on Friday because of concerns about national security, Turkey set US product taxes only as retaliation, Sanders added.
The latest pretext for the breakdown in Washington-Ankara relations and the US’ tariff hikes against Turkey is Ankara’s now two-year arrest of the American pastor Andrew Brunson for alleged links with the movement founded by the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, which Ankara accuses of orchestrating the military coup that failed in 2016. In late July Brunson was released from a Turkish prison and placed under house arrest.
Sanders’ statement that Washington will not lift tariffs even if Brunson is released confirms what FRN has analyzed since the beginning, namely, that the rift in Turkey-US relations runs much deeper and is of geostrategic significance. One crucial consequence of Washington’s economic war on Turkey is Ankara’s drifting towards closer relations with Moscow and Tehran, both of which have defended Turkey from the sanctions. It is also worth noting that Turkey’s counter-sanctions were announced at the same time as Russian foreign minister Lavrov was visiting Ankara for consultations on economic and geopolitical cooperation.
Meanwhile, according to Turkey’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey will resort to further legal measures if F-35 supplies are blocked by the United States.
Ibrahim Kalin told Turkish media that “it is not easy to rescind this contract, we are part of a multilateral contract, we comply with all the requirements and we pay, if the US does not comply, we will use the law.”
The US Congress has recently decided to suspend deliveries of US fifth-generation F-35 fighters to Turkey due to Ankara’s plans to acquire the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft defense system, and has threatened it with additional sanctions.