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Key players in the continuing rift between Turkey, US

Tracy Wilkinson and Melissa Etehad, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON --Relations between Turkey and the United States suffered another blow Friday after President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that he had authorized the doubling of tariffs on steel and aluminum exports from Turkey.

The deepening rift between the two NATO allies is over failed talks to release an American pastor who has been detained since 2016 on espionage charges.

Friday's announcement comes nine days after Trump said the Treasury Department would impose sanctions on two Turkish officials. Here's a look at the major players involved and an explanation of this geopolitical conflict:

PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON

Brunson is an evangelical preacher who has lived in Turkey for more two decades, where he ran the small Izmir Resurrection Church in Izmir, a city on the Aegean coast in western Turkey. He was swept up in a massive dragnet in 2016 and accused of espionage after an attempted military coup failed to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish indictment against the 50-year-old pastor alleges that he tried to convert Kurds living in Turkey to Christianity and engaged in "missionary activities under the cover of providing humanitarian aid to asylum seekers." Whether true or not, those allegations bring together two feared subjects for the Turkish government: overt Christian proselytizing and work with the Kurds, many of whom desire independence from Turkey.

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Brunson, his supporters and the U.S. government maintain the charges are bogus, and Trump has described the pastor as a hostage. "The disciples of Jesus suffered in his name; now it is my turn," Brunson said during a court appearance last month. Brunson's church belongs to the same evangelical umbrella group as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's Kansas congregation.

A native of Black Mountain, N.C., he has lived and worked in Turkey with his wife and children, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based legal organization that has advocated for his release.

"I've never done something against Turkey," Brunson said in a court hearing in April. "I love Turkey."

Brunson's next hearing is Oct. 12. He could face 35 years in prison if convicted.

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