White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday that the U.S.is imposing sanctions against Turkey due to the continued imprisonment of USA pastor Andrew Brunson.
Turkey suspects the pastor has ties to the organisers of the 2016 coup in July to try to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Treasury Department's sanctions target Turkey's Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu. All their property within United States jurisdiction has been blocked, and United States citizens are also "generally prohibited from engaging in transactions" with the two Turkish officials.
According to the Treasury Department, Wednesday's sanctions were imposed in accordance with an executive order Trump signed in December pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Act, a human rights measure Congress passed in 2016. "It's time - once and for all - for the Trump-Pence Administration to take away Erdogan's veto of honest American remembrance of Turkey's World War I-era genocide and exile of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, and other Christian nations".
Over the course of 18 months, President Donald Trump has shown he's willing to use American economic might in ways his predecessors were too cautious - or too prudent - to risk.
The Administration's action is an unprecedented escalation against Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally that hosts America's largest foreign stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Brunson's supporters maintain that the charges against him were fabricated.
Brunson, who led a Protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, was placed under house arrest last week after almost two years in jail.
Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey would not make compromises regarding the independence of the judiciary, and said the remarks of the "evangelist, zionist mentality" in the United States was unacceptable. "President Trump concluded that these sanctions are the appropriate action".
He wrote: "A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected US Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison".
The upheaval over the Brunson case comes as U.S. -Turkey relations had begun to improve slowly after years of tension, mostly having to do with conflicting objectives in Syria.