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‘This is not a colony!’ Ankara snaps at Washington over threat that US pharma may exit Turkey if it fails to repay $2.3bn debt

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Turkish Navy frigate TCG Kemal Reis (F-247) in the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul, Turkey May 13, 2019.
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Koca was referring to the “extremely unfortunate” comments by the US envoy during a trade conference on Wednesday, when Satterfield warned that American pharmaceutical companies “will consider departing the Turkish market or will reduce exposure to Turkish market,” over the outstanding debt – which ballooned from $230 million last year to some $2.3 billion currently.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak assured US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that prompt payments will be arranged when Ross raised the issue in 2019, Sutterfied said. Now, however, Turkey is asking US companies to accept significantly reduced repayments. This is unacceptable to Washington, he said.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu lashed out at Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) earlier on Friday, criticizing her “blatant ignorance” and threatening that she will “learn to respect the Turkish people’s will.”

Cavusoglu’s angry tweet came after Pelosi sought to criticize US President Donald Trump as a wannabe dictator, arguing the US is a democracy – unlike North Korea, Turkey, Russia or Saudi Arabia.

“We do know who he admires. He admires [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, he admires Kim Jong Un, he admires Erdogan in Turkey,” Pelosi told reporters.

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The “colonial” row over medical debt and the Cavusoglu-Pelosi diplomatic flare-up are just the latest in the string of sparks between Ankara and Washington in recent years. The US has threatened Turkey with sanctions and kicked Ankara out of the F-35 stealth fighter consortium after the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems in July 2019. 

Another round of sanctions threats came in October, after Turkey sent troops into areas of northern Syria held by the US-backed Kurdish militias. Ankara’s move also soured relations with another NATO ally, France, which has since repeatedly butted heads with Turkey over Libya and oil exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.

More recently, Washington expressed “disappointment” in July, after Erdogan decided to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque again. The Orthodox cathedral was built by the Byzantines and turned into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul), but became a museum under Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic.

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