Turkey releases US scientist but tensions stay

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Turkey on Wednesday freed a NASA researcher with dual US-Turkish citizenship whose almost three-year confinement had soured relations; however the NATO allies stayed divided over issues including Ankara’s buying of a Russian missile system.

Serkan Golge, a naturalized US resident working for the US space agency in Houston, was captured in July 2016 on a visit back to Turkey in the outcome of an unsuccessful coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish experts accused Golge of connections to self-banished cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blamed for organizing the mutiny. Golge was condemned in 2018 to seven and a half years in jail in spite of US State Department dissents that there was no believable proof.

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His wife, Kubra Golge, expressed happiness at his release yet said that he stayed restricted from going outside Turkey.

“We are happy but he still rejects the charges against him,” she told AFP by email. “Hope we can come back soon to the US.”

State Department representative Morgan Ortagus said that the United States would press for Golge to have the option to come back to the United States “as quickly as possible.”

“We want to commend them for doing the right thing today by releasing him,” Ortagus told reporters. “We think it’s welcome news.”

Ortagus said that the United States was still pursuing for the freedom of local employees of US diplomatic missions in Turkey.

Golge was released not long after Erdogan talked by phone with US President Donald Trump, despite the fact that an official summary by Turkey did not make reference to discussion of the Golge case.

Turkey in October also discharged an American pastor caught up in the crackdown, Andrew Brunson. His case had turned into a cause celebre among the conservative Christian base of Trump, who compelled Turkey through duties that sent the lira currency into a nosedive.

Golge’s case had generated outrage in the United States. A bipartisan gathering of senators presented a bill looking for sanctions on Turkish authorities engaged with the detention of US citizens, saying that Ankara’s activities did not befit a NATO partner.

But Turkey still is in danger of US sanctions over its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system. Washington is pressing Ankara to rather purchase the US Patriot equivalent.

Erdogan has said the S-400 buy was a “done deal” but in the telephone call with Trump emphasized an idea to form a joint working group on the decision, as indicated by the Turkish president’s office.

The State Department voiced thankfulness for Turkey as a partner but repeated worries about the arrangement, which US authorities state could enable Russia to sharpen its system to target US hardware used by NATO.

“We’re willing to engage with the Turkish government but our position remains the same that Turkey will face very real and very negative consequences if it completes the delivery of the S-400,” Ortagus said.

The United States has suspended Turkey’s involvement in the F-35 fighter jet program, in which Turkey had spent $1 billion.

Washington and Ankara have likewise quarreled over Syria, with Trump promising to pull out every one of the 2,000 US troops from the war-battered country following a December telephone conversation with Erdogan.

Trump has since hindered the withdrawal because his assistants dread that Turkey will use the nonappearance of US troops to strike Syrian Kurdish warriors. The forces helped rout fanatics from the Islamic State group, yet Ankara links them with separatists at home.

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