ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Saturday to defy US “threats” over a detained pastor, showing no signs of concessions in a bitter row that has caused the Turkish lira to crash.
Relations between the two Nato allies have sunk to their lowest point in decades over a string of issues including the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson on terror-related charges, prompting the lira to hit record lows against the dollar.
The Turkish strongman also lashed out at interest rates, denounced them as a “tool of exploitation” which should be kept as low as possible.
The embattled lira tumbled 16 per cent against the dollar on Friday, falling further when US President Donald Trump said he had doubled steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey.
“It is wrong to dare bring Turkey to its knees through threats over a pastor,” Erdogan said in the Black Sea town of Unye.
“Shame on you, shame on you,” he said in remarks directly addressed to Washington. “You are exchanging your strategic partner in Nato for a priest.”
Trump announced the punitive doubling of tariffs on Twitter, with the White House saying the sanctions would take effect from Aug 13.
In a second speech, this time in the Black Sea city of Rize, Erdogan ruled out any change in the country’s interest rates policy.
“Interest rates should be kept to a minimum because they are a tool of exploitation that makes the poor poorer and the rich richer,” he said.
The nominally independent central bank has defied pressure over the last few weeks to hike interest rates in the face of high inflation and a collapsing currency.
Erdogan has downplayed the currency crisis, urging Turks to convert any stashed-away gold or foreign currency into lira, thereby waging a “war of independence” against America. “If they have the dollar, we have Allah,” he said.
Erdogan said high foreign exchange rates were being used as a weapon against Turkey.
“We know very well that the issue is not the dollar, the euro or gold. “These are the bullets, cannonballs and missiles of an economic war waged against our country,” he said.
Ankara had already taken measures to respond and would continue doing so, he added.
In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Erdogan warned Washington not to risk its relations with Ankara, saying otherwise it would look for “new friends and allies”.
“Unless the United States starts respecting Turkey’s sovereignty and proves that it understands the dangers our nation faces, our partnership could be in jeopardy,” he wrote.
In Rize, Erdogan said the US would pay a price by challenging Turkey for the sake of “petty calculations”, denouncing Washington for declaring “economic war on the entire world” and holding countries “for ransom through sanction threats”.
No concessions on Brunson
Iran has also suffered a major tumbling of its currency this year partly over the re-imposition of US sanctions after Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal.
Erdogan had on Friday held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss economic and trade issues as well as the Syria crisis.
The latest escalation between Ankara and Washington was denounced by the Turkish press, with pro-government daily Sabah saying “the currency attack” was no different from the attempted coup of July 2016.
Although the pastor’s arrest has soured already-fragile ties with Washington, Erdogan said there would be no let up in Brunson’s case, vowing: “We have not made concessions on justice so far, and we will never make any.”
Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2018