US, Turkey said to reach deal on release of American pastor

Lester Mason
October 12, 2018

The United States and Turkey have quietly agreed to a deal that involves the release of jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions, USA news outlets reported on Tuesday.

Senior administration officials and a person briefed on the matter told NBC that, according to the agreement, "Brunson is supposed to be released after certain charges against him are dropped at his next court hearing, now scheduled for Friday".

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that the hopeful he will soon go free but said she was unaware of any agreement on his release. Ankara accuses Brunson of having links to groups guilty of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in 2016, through the small evangelical church he has run in the coastal resort city of Izmir for the past 20 years.

Two senior administration officials said there was no deal with Turkey for Brunson.

The trial of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is facing terrorism-related charges in Turkey, will resume on Friday in western Izmir province, according to judicial sources. He is accused of working to convert Kurds to Christianity to destabilize Turkey.

The details of the deal are unclear, but those familiar with the discussions said it includes a commitment by the ease economic pressure on Turkey.

The case against Brunson, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, has become the flashpoint in a diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington, triggering US tariffs and sanctions against Turkey and condemnation from President Donald Trump. Leaked reports by Turkish officials allege the Saudis lured Khashoggi to its Istanbul consulate, where they then murdered him and disposed of his dismembered body.

Brunson, of Montreat, N.C., faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led a sustained diplomatic effort to have the pastor released, recently declared that Brunson "should have been released last month", and that he expects "he could be released this month", according to the Financial Times.

"There is a will on both sides to solve this problem", said a U.S. diplomat. "We hope to solve the matters between us as soon as possible and develop ties with the politics and the economy once again, in line with the spirit of being strategic partners".

Four U.S. Senators, including Republican Lindsay Graham and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, released a joint statement saying Brunson's release would "help improve U.S. -Turkey relations for the long-term".

More than 50,000 people were arrested in Turkey in President Erdogan's huge post-coup crackdown. He has denied the accusation - as has Gulen - and Washington has demanded his immediate release.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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