Erdogan Adds Deal With U.S. on Syrian Town to List of Grievances

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey’s president complained that an agreement with the U.S. over the control of a strategic Syrian town isn’t working, a new thorn in an alliance badly strained by Ankara’s refusal to release a long-held American pastor.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a June deal for the full withdrawal of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces from the Syrian town of Manbij near Turkey’s border isn’t progressing as expected. Turkey wants the Kurds pushed back, considering them a terrorist affiliate of Kurdish separatists it’s battled at home for decades.

“The issue is being neglected,” Hurriyet newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying on Wednesday. “The agreement we’ve reached during the talks is not progressing in the same direction now.” He didn’t elaborate.

The agreement was meant to relieve one of the many sources of tension between the NATO allies to have developed in recent years. Last month, Washington imposed sanctions on Turkey for not freeing Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is currently under house arrest after spending two years in jail over his alleged role in the failed 2016 attempt to depose Erdogan and his government. Brunson denies any wrongdoing.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo stressed the importance of releasing the pastor in a phone call with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday, according to the State Department website. President Donald Trump said in a recent interview with Bloomberg that he felt personally let down by Erdogan after the U.S. helped to free a Turkish citizen detained in Israel.

Erdogan again rebuffed the U.S. demand for Brunson’s freedom.

“It’s not nice for them to demand ‘you will send him, hand him over to us’,” Erdogan said, reiterating Turkey’s official stance that the pastor’s fate is a matter for the courts. “Such threats won’t produce results.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.