ANKARA: Turkey and the United States mutually removed sanctions on each other’s ministers on Friday, a move toward normalization of bilateral relations, yet there is a rocky path ahead for full recovery of deeply soured ties.
Turkey lifted the travel ban, freezing of assets, ban on financial and trade transactions on US ministers Jeff Sessions and Kirsjten Nielsen, while the US Treasury removed sanctions on Turkish ministers, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.
The decision of the two NATO allies came one day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart Donald Trump talked over the phone on Thursday.
Ankara and Washington simultaneously announced the decision two weeks after the release of the pastor Andrew Brunson who was detained in Turkey on terrorism charges and espionage.
The case cast a shadow on the bilateral ties of the two countries in the past few years, but the crisis hit a peak in August when Washington sanctioned Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul for their alleged role in the detention of Brunson.
The United States declared to ban the access of two Turkish ministers to US assets and Turkey swiftly responded by slapping the same sanctions on the two US ministers, Jeff Sessions and Kirsjten Nielsen.
Trump also declared doubling of duties on aluminium and steel imported from Turkey. Turkey hit back by raising tariffs on US cars, alcohol and tobacco imports.
Local media reported that Ankara has not released Brunson in the court hearing in August, because Ankara urged Washington to spare Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank from a threatened fine for allegedly helping Iran evade US sanctions in return for the release of Brunson, yet the negotiations failed.
The bilateral tension hit the Turkish lira which has lost nearly 40 per cent of its value against US dollar since the start of 2018.
Brunson was sentenced on Oct. 12 by a court to jail for three years and 45 days over terror charges, but was then set free last month and returned home due to the time he had served.
Trump has said, “no deal” was made with Turkish officials to secure Brunson’s release, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they could remove these sanctions after the release of the pastor.
Even though Washington lifted sanctions on Turkish ministers, the United States still keeps its decision of doubling tariffs on Turkey.
Brunson’s detention was not the only source of tension in US-Turkish relations.
Ankara and Washington are also at odds over diverging interests in Syria, where Washington supports Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey regards as Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Both Turkey and the United States have decided to overcome their long-lasting bilateral problems, and this is a sign of easing relations, Burak Kuntay, international relations expert from Bahcesehir University said.
The release of Brunson paved the way to overcome the deadlock in the relations between the two countries, Kuntay noted.
The expert said there are also other major issues such as conflicting interests in Syria, but the two countries are also in progress on implementation of a deal for withdrawal of Syrian Kurds from northwestern Syria.
After a delay in implementation of a Manbij deal which envisages retreat of the YPG members from northwestern Manbij town of Syria, Turkish and US soldiers launched joint patrols around the town as of Nov. 1 as part of the road map.
Ankara and Washington have been conducting independent patrols on the border of Manbij since the two countries agreed on a roadmap in June, under which both would jointly maintain security and stability there.
Kuntay drew attention to the new US sanctions on Iran that will go into effect on Monday, and said the issue would be a serious source of tension between Ankara and Washington if the latter does not qualify Turkey with an exemption to these measures taking account that Ankara relies on Iranian oil resources.
For full normalization of ties between the two nations, he stressed that it is worth noting the results of the US Congress midterm elections to have a clear sight on Trump’s perspective in ties with Turkey.