United States pastor held in Turkey may be released under secret deal

Remigio Civitarese
Ottobre 12, 2018

News reported Thursday that the White House has reached a secret arrangement with Turkey to secure the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson who has been detained there for two years.

Under an agreement senior Trump administration officials recently reached with Turkey, Brunson is supposed to be released after certain charges against him are dropped at his next court hearing, now scheduled for Friday, the senior administration officials and a person briefed on the matter said.

Turkey had been close to releasing Brunson before amid detention for charges of aiding terrorist groups.

A previous deal to get Brunson freed collapsed in July when a Turkish court made a decision to place the American pastor under house arrest.

State Department officials denied there had been any agreement, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was "hopeful" that Turkey would release him soon. He is accused of working to convert Kurds to Christianity to destabilize Turkey. NBC reported the news, citing the White House sources who added that the United States will ease economic pressure on Turkey as part of the deal.

The source cautioned that United States officials are counting on Turkish officials to follow through on their end of the agreement, which appears to now be in place with Brunson due to appear before a Turkish court on Friday.

Jailed or held under house arrest since October 2016, Brunson faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

An armored police vehicle is seen outside the home of US pastor Andrew Brunson in Izmir, Turkey October 11, 2018.

"President Trump has had a focus on it, the administration has had a focus on it, and we're very hopeful that we'll see a good outcome before too long", Pompeo told the Jewish Institute for National Security of America. Charges against Brunson would be reduced and he would be sentenced to time served or be allowed to serve any remaining term in the United States, the Post said, citing USA officials and people close to the case.

Officials remained cautious, however, in light of a deal that fell apart last summer, with both sides blaming each other for acting in bad faith.

But amid the frenzied diplomatic crisis that has followed Khashoggi's disappearance, releasing Brunson now could afford Turkey much-needed leverage from the U.S.in challenging Saudi Arabia.

The court's decision failed to improve tensions between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies, and Washington sanctioned two Turkish officials and doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.

More than 50,000 people were arrested in Turkey in President Erdogan's huge post-coup crackdown. Trump then authorized a doubling of existing US steel and aluminum tariffs against Turkey.

The U.S. continues to refuse Ankara's demands that the cleric Gulen be extradited.

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