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US, Turkey to resolve detainee spat 'in a matter of days': Pompeo

Fight over release of US pastor held 21-months intensifies as Turkish president orders sanctions on American officials.

Turkey's president ordered the asset freeze of two US officials in retaliation for sanctions imposed on its justice and interior ministers over the detention of an American pastor.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey had been "patient" since the US sanctions were slapped on Abdulhamit Gul, the minister of justice, and Suleyman Soylu, the minister of interior, this week.

"I am instructing my friends today, we will freeze assets, if there are any, of the US justice and interior secretaries in Turkey," Erdogan, speaking at a ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party meeting in Ankara, was quoted as saying by the official Anadolu news agency.

It was unclear who would be affected by Erdogan's announcement because of differing cabinet roles in the United States, or if they have any holdings in Turkey.

'Well past time'

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, said on Saturday he hopes the American held in Turkey will be released in the coming days.

Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, met in Singapore on Friday to discuss the release of Evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.

He was arrested in December 2016 following a failed coup in Turkey on charges of espionage and "committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member" - allegations Brunson denies. He faces 35 in prison if convicted.

"I had a constructive conversation with my counterpart yesterday," Pompeo told reporters. "I made clear that it is well past time that pastor Brunson be free and permitted to return to the United States, and that the others being held by Turkey also similarly be freed as well. 

"I am hopeful that in the coming days that we will see that occur."

The United States has also been seeking the release of three locally employed embassy staff held in Turkey.

Asked if the issue threatened Turkey's membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Pompeo said: "Turkey is a NATO partner with whom the United States has every intention to continue to work with cooperatively."

Economic fallout

The White House blocked assets and properties belonging to the Turks after accusing them of playing leading roles in Brunson's detention.

Steps taken by the United States over Brunson were not suitable for a strategic partner and were "disrespectful" to Turkey, Erdogan said.

"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 in a televised speech.

The dispute between the NATO allies has had a growing economic effect on Turkey. Investors' deepening concerns have sent the lira to record lows and hammered local stocks, as well as Turkey's debt-risk profile.

Turkey's foreign minister said discussions will continue with American officials.

"Of course you can't expect all issues to be resolved in a single meeting. But we have agreed to work together, closely cooperate, and keep the dialogue in the coming period," Cavusoglu said after the talks with Pompeo.

The US pastor has lived in Turkey for 23 years and led the Izmir Resurrection Church.

He was held in a Turkish prison for 21 months until he was transferred to house arrest last week. On Tuesday, a court rejected his appeal to be released during his trial.

Brunson stands accused of helping supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim Leader who Turkish authorities say masterminded the July 2016 coup attempt in which 250 people were killed. Gulen denies the allegations.

Turkey has been trying to have Gulen extradited from the US for two years.

The American pastor was also charged with supporting outlawed Kurdish PKK fighters.


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