US National Security Adviser John Bolton also said that he thinks the Qatari pledge of support for the Turkish economy will be "utterly insufficient," and Turkey should do the right thing as a NATO ally.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks during an interview with Reuters in Jerusalem, Israel, August 21, 2018.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks during an interview with Reuters in Jerusalem, Israel, August 21, 2018. (Reuters)

Turkey could end its lira-battering crisis with the United States "instantly" by freeing a detained American pastor, President Donald Trump's national security adviser said in Jerusalem on Wednesday, adding that a Qatari cash-infusion would not help Ankara's economy.

The Turkish currency lost ground after Washington ordered tariffs in retaliation for the detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson on charges of complicity in a failed 2016 coup and having links to terror groups. However, the lira has since recouped some of its losses following measures taken by Ankara.

Brunson denies wrongdoing, and Ankara has in the past suggested his fate could be linked to that of US-based Fetullah Gulen, head of the FETO terrorist organisation.

"Look, the Turkish government made a big mistake in not releasing Pastor Brunson," Bolton told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Israel.

"Every day that goes by that mistake continues, this crisis could be over instantly if they did the right thing as a NATO ally, part of the West, and release Pastor Brunson without condition."

Asked if the United States questioned Turkey's membership in NATO given the stand-off, Bolton said: "That's not an issue at the moment. We're focused on Pastor Brunson and the other Americans that the Turkish government's holding illegitimately and we expect that to get resolved."

Qatari money "insufficient"

Qatar's Emir this month approved a package of economic projects, including a $15 billion pledge of support, for Turkey, giving a boost to a lira that has lost some 37 percent of its value this year.

Bolton was sceptical about the intervention by the Gulf state, which has been feuding with US allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

"Well, I think what they pledged is utterly insufficient to have an impact on Turkey's economy. It's certainly not helpful but we'll actually see what develops from their pledge," he said.

'Not seeking regime change, we want behaviour change'

Russia is "stuck" in Syria and looking for others to fund post-war reconstruction there, Bolton said, describing this as an opportunity for Washington to press for Iranian forces to quit the country.

Bolton said US contacts with Russia did not include any understanding over a push by regime forces against the opposition and rebels in Idlib. But he warned against any use of chemical or biological weapons there.

Bolton also reaffirmed that the United States was not seeking a change of government in Tehran.

"Just to be clear, regime change in Iran is not American policy. But what we want is a massive change in the regime's behaviour," Bolton said.

Bolton, who has in the past suggested the US government should push for a change in government in Iran, said in May that that was not part of the Trump administration's policy.

Bolton said that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met Trump in Helsinki on July 16, had told the United States that Moscow could not compel the Iranians to leave Syria.

"But he also told us that his interest and Iran's were not exactly the same. So we're obviously going to talk to him about what role they can play," said Bolton, who meets his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, in Geneva on Thursday.

"We're going see what we and others can agree in terms of resolving the conflict in Syria. But the one prerequisite there is the withdrawal of all Iranian forces back in Iran."

Iranian affairs analyst for Middle East Eye and Middle East Monitor, Mahan Abedin has the latest from London.

"I don't think they want to be stuck there. I think their frenetic diplomatic activity in Europe indicates that they'd like to find somebody else, for example, to bear the cost of reconstructing Syria - which they may or may not succeed in doing," Bolton said.

US recognition of Israel's claim over Golan Heights

Bolton also touched on the status of the Israeli occupied Golan Heights and said that the Trump administration is not discussing possible US recognition of Israel's claim of sovereignty over the territory.

Israel captured much of the Golan from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed it in a move not endorsed internationally. In May, a senior Israeli official said that US recognition could be forthcoming within months.

"I've heard the idea being suggested but there's no discussion of it, no decision within the US government," Bolton said. 

"Obviously we understand the Israeli claim that it has annexed the Golan Heights – we understand their position – but there's no change in the US position for now."

Palestinians seek other territories that Israel occupied in 1967 – the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem – for a future state. US-backed talks on that goal stalled in 2014.

The Trump administration has tried to restart the diplomacy but has been cold-shouldered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since it recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital last December.

Washington has also signalled possible accommodation with Israel's West Bank settlements, dropping the term "occupied" from some US documentation about the territory. Most world powers deem the settlements illegal.

Asked whether the Trump administration envisaged Palestinian statehood as the way forward, Bolton sounded circumspect.

"I think it's been the US view for a long time that ultimately Israelis and Palestinians are going to have to agree on this," he said. "Nobody's going to impose a peace in that respect."

Whether peace talks with Abbas could resume was "up to him," Bolton said.

Source: Reuters