VIDEO: [CNN] Pastor Andrew Brunson kneels before President Donald Trump and prays for him after being brought from a Turkish prison cell to the White House in less than 24 hours.
The unprecedented plan to essentially shutter an American embassy and all diplomatic missions of a NATO ally would have occurred over a 60-day period, starting with the removal of chief diplomats and ending with the eventual drawdown of all diplomatic personnel, according to one senior U.S. official with knowledge of the plan. The plan to remove the diplomats over the two month period was designed to put incremental pressure on the Turkish government.
“For a while, we were in fear of an apocalyptic break in relations with Turkey,” a senior State Department official said.
“It would be starting with the chargé [d’affaires] to send a message: ‘no personnel left behind,'” the official said. The U.S. has not had an ambassador in Turkey since October of 2017, making the chargé d’affaires the most senior diplomat in the country.
The plan was among half-a-dozen options including increasing sanctions on business and Turkish officials, and its execution would have been more seriously considered if Brunson was not released at his hearing in October.
But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was said to be vocal in opposition to the plan, nevertheless took on the president’s order and an eight-page plan was drafted, according to the State Department official. It was so closely guarded and sensitive that few State Department officials dared to even utter that it was a Turkish withdrawal plan. Some referred to it as “the Turkey thing.”
The State Department has denied that any such plan was drawn up.
“The assertion that there was a plan to close our diplomatic relations with Turkey or our diplomatic facilities in Turkey is patently false,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
“As a matter of policy, we never discuss our internal process other than to say that we always consider a full range of options when addressing international responses,” Nauert said. “Mission Turkey is one of our most important posts in Europe. We will continue to devote the necessary diplomatic attention and resources befitting a NATO ally.”
A White House spokesperson did not comment on the record.
According to multiple administration officials, Trump was furious with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan because the president was given assurances that Brunson would be released when the pastor filed an appeal to his house arrest. The appeal was rejected by a Turkish court in August.