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Trump doubles steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey amid row over detained US pastor

Andrew Buncombe

Donald Trump has announced a doubling of tariffs against Turkey, as relations between the two nations continue to sour following Ankara’s detention of an American pastor.

The US president announced on Twitter the additional sanctions for Turkish steel and aluminium, two days after talks between US and Turkish officials in Washington trying to resolve the crisis over detained pastor Andrew Brunson concluded without any obvious progress.

“I have just authorised a doubling of tariffs on steel and aluminium with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong dollar,” the president wrote.

He added: “Aluminium will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time.”

On Wednesday, Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, Sedat Onal, and officials from Turkey’s finance ministry, met around an hour with US deputy secretary of state, John Sullivan.

In a statement, the US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said only that they “discussed a range of bilateral matters including Pastor Brunson”. Turkey’s embassy has yet to comment on the talks.

Mr Brunson, 50, who has lived for two decades in Turkey, was arrested in 2016 and charged with having terrorist connections. He was also charged on connection with the failed coup attempt that year against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Having spent two years in jail, he was recently released to house arrest and his trial is due to resume in October.

The Washington Post said the detention of the pastor has been the focus of “downward-spiralling relations between the two Nato allies, as President Trump and Vice President Pence have insisted Mr Brunson is innocent and demanded his release”. Last week, Trump imposed sanctions against two Turkish cabinet ministers, actions that were quickly reciprocated by Mr Erdogan.

Turkey said it would respond to the latest increase in tariffs in kind.

The move by Mr Trump comes as Mr Erdogan appeals for calm as the country’s currency plunges, urging people to change foreign money into local lira.

The lira tumbled about 10 per cent on Friday to another record low, as investors worried about the joint impact of Mr Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies and US sanctions.

Mr Erdogan said during an address to supporters: “Change the euros, the dollars and the gold that you are keeping beneath your pillows into lira at our banks. This is a domestic and national struggle.“

He appeared to blame foreigners for trying to hurt Turkey, saying: “This will be my people’s response against those waging an economic war against us.”

Even as the Turkish president spoke, the lira fell further.

Both countries are determined to try and resolve the standoff between the two nations, hence this week’s meeting in Washington.

One element of an agreement could possibly include a prisoner swap, with Mr Brunson’s being released in exchange for the return home of Turkish banker Hakan Atilla.

Mr Atilla was sentenced in federal court earlier this year to 32 months imprisonment for his involvement in violations of US sanctions on the purchase of Iranian oil.