U.S. Lifts Sanctions on Turkish Officials After Pastor's Release

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Treasury Department lifted sanctions on two Turkish officials targeted in retaliation for the country’s detention of an American pastor released last month in the latest sign that tensions between the two NATO allies are easing.

Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu, who had been sanctioned for their roles in organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, were removed from Treasury’s sanctions list early Friday. The action followed Brunson’s release Oct. 12 after more than two years over his alleged aid to people involved in a failed coup. Brunson and the U.S. repeatedly rejected those accusations.

Turkey’s lira extended gains following the news and was trading 1.3 percent higher at 5.4399 per dollar at 10:05 a.m. in New York.

The penalties against Gul and Soylu were issued under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. government to target individuals, companies or other entities involved in corruption or human-rights abuses anywhere in the world. All assets in the U.S. belonging to the two ministers had been blocked, and U.S. entities had been prohibited from doing business with them.

Turkey lifted sanctions it had imposed on two American officials as retaliation. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen were removed from Turkey’s sanctions list, the foreign ministry said in an emailed statement.

Brunson, an evangelical pastor from North Carolina who was first detained in 2016, was convicted by a Turkish court for collaborating with terrorist groups and participating in a coup attempt in Turkey that year.

Brunson’s release resolved a key point of tension between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Turkey in August over the pastor’s detention, and had threatened to follow suit with more punitive measures if he wasn’t set free. The dispute compounded a 40 percent depreciation of the lira this year.

Officials have hoped Brunson’s release could serve as a catalyst for improving ties between Turkey and the U.S. Turkey has played a role in the fight against Islamic State in neighboring Syria and has the second-biggest military in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. At the same time, Erdogan has made American leaders increasingly nervous because of his drift toward authoritarianism and pursuit of better ties with Russia.

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