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Damir Kaletovic

Damir Kaletovic

Writer, Safehaven.com

Damir Kaletovic is a veteran investigative journalist covering Europe and the Middle East, and a senior consultant for Divergente Research.

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U.S.-Turkey Tensions Take A Dangerous Turn

Turkey

The escalation of tensions and verbal war between the U.S. and Turkey has reached a new level with the U.S. Department of Treasury slapping sanctions in two of Turkey’s top officials Wednesday, Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu.

Both high-ranking officials are being targeted as individuals who played the key role in the arrest and detention of American Pastor Andrew Brunson who has been detained on suspicions of espionage.

Brunson--an evangelical pastor from North Carolina--has been imprisoned in Turkey for 21 months and is accused of aiding the failed coup attempt against the Turkish government and Erdogan in July 2016. The suspicions arose because of the pastor’s links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Gulenist movement—and influential movement and one-time ally-turned-enemy of the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP).

If found guilty by a Turkish court, the pastor could face 35 years in prison.

Turkey has vowed an equally tough reaction to this latest “hostility”, calling on Washington to “row back from this wrong decision” and threatening “a response to this aggressive attitude that will not serve any purpose.

And so, the diplomatic crisis enters phase two. Related: How Much Do You Need To Be in The Top One Percent?

“The relationship is now officially in crisis, and the only way out is for Erdogan to do what he hates the most: back down,” said Julianne Smith, the deputy national security adviser to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

This tensions could have major consequences for the stability of NATO, which is already under attack by Trump—marginalized and weakened to a point that Russia will certainly be sizing up for opportunity.

Compared to other NATO members, Turkey is one of the most important, geostrategically, due to its location between Europe and Asia, and across the Black Sea from Russia.

As such, a major rift with Turkey could lead to a dangerous NATO crisis, with the key beneficiary being Moscow.

And in the world of geopolitics, NATO allies don’t sanction each other. This is an unprecedented move, and Erdogan is a megalomaniac who won’t cater to Trump’s antics like Brussels might.

Pro-government columnists in Turkey are already calling for the shut-down of the U.S. military base in Turkey. This is the Incirlik Air Base, which houses some 1,500 American military personnel and is critical in the fight against ISIS in Syria—and as a bulwark against Russia.  

It doesn’t help matters that Turkey is planning to buy a missile defense system from Russia in the only deal of this nature in history between a NATO member and Russia.

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At the same time, critics of Erdogan say he should have been sanctioned long ago, regardless of the bigger picture of NATO stability.

In the meantime, everyone will be wondering about a quid pro quo here: Erdogan’s mortal enemy, Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen of the Gulen movement, is in the U.S., and Washington has rejected Turkey’s request for his extradition for three years. The American pastor is Erdogan’s trump card, and he’s seeking a swap.  

The pastor has been languishing in a Turkish prison for 21 months already. For Trump, the timing is key: This is about the mid-term elections and getting the evangelical vote.

By Damir Kaletovic for Safehaven.com

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