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US lifts sanctions on two top Turkish officials

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Friday it lifted sanctions imposed on two top officials in Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s cabinet, a sign of improved relations after Turkey freed an American pastor from detention three weeks ago.

The United States had imposed sanctions on Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in August over the case of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

Turkey promptly matched the move on Friday by lifting sanctions on two corresponding U.S. officials – U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Brunson, who had lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, had been accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan. He was allowed to return to the United States in October after two years of detention.

Erdogan and Trump had discussed improving frosty relations between Washington and Ankara during a call between the two leaders, the Turkish presidency said on Thursday. The White House did not have any immediate comment on the lifting of the sanctions.

Read More: Erdogan sanctions US officials in tit-for-tat row over pastor

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on August 4, had said Turkey would impose sanctions on two US officials as retaliation for a similar move by Washington, hitting back in an unprecedented row between the NATO allies.

Turkey’s holding of pastor Andrew Brunson on terror-related charges for almost two years has sparked one of the most intense crises between Washington and Ankara.

But in his first comments on the dispute since Washington imposed the sanctions on Wednesday, Erdogan also appeared keen to ward off any further escalation by saying that neither side had an interest in a “lose-lose” scenario.

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