STATE DEPARTMENT - The United States is threatening sanctions on Turkey unless a detained American pastor is released.
"If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free," said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday at a religious freedom summit at the State Department.
Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, has been jailed in Turkey on terrorism and espionage charges.His case has strained relations between Turkey and the U.S., both NATO allies.
"Release pastor Andrew Brunson now, or be prepared to face the consequences," Pence warned.
Later Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump also weighed in on Twitter tweeting, "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!"
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reacted to the warning Thursday, tweeting "No one dictates Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception."
Noone dictates Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception.— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) July 26, 2018
The exchange comes a day after Brunson was released from a Turkish prison and placed under house arrest while his trial continues.
“This is a welcome first step. But it is not good enough,” added Pence who spoke with Brunson on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told American lawmakers that the release of Brunson from prison is an “indicator of diplomatic progress” but the “work is not done.”
Pompeo said Washington remains "in conversations with Turkey to bring home" the American pastor.
Brunson was indicted on charges of helping a network led by U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
During the third and final day of the first-ever State Department ministerial to advance religious freedom, Pence and Pompeo also highlighted the plight of religious minorities across the globe.
The U.S. pledged an additional $ 17 million for de-mining efforts in the Ninewa region of Iraq, which is on top of the $90 million Washington provided in 2017.U.S. officials say the funding will help clear mines from areas with large populations of religious minorities who were subject to what Pence called genocide at the hands of Islamic State militants.
The summit has also focused on religious freedom issues in China, Myanmar and Iran.
The global situation "must change," said Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
"In Burma, the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, a religious minority. In Iraq, religious minority groups of Yazidis and Christians victimized by ISIS [Islamic State terror group] are still in dire need of security and assistance. In Turkey, Pastor Andrew Brunson remains wrongfully imprisoned on false charges," said Brownback on Tuesday during opening remarks of the ministerial.
"In China, a large number of Uighur Muslims are being sent to re-education camps, Tibetan Buddhists face significant restrictions in organizing their own faith and Christian house church leaders are imprisoned."