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USA in 'secret deal' with Turkey to release pastor

12 October 2018

The Trump administration is cautiously optimistic that an American cleric who has been held in Turkey for the past two years on espionage and terrorism-related charges will be released soon after a court hearing Friday, according to US officials and people close to the case.

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".

He added that the Trump administration had "made it clear that we will continue to stand strong until Pastor Brunson is free".

Pastor Brunson, an evangelical from North Carolina, was arrested in Izmir, Turkey in October 2016, and was accused, without any evidence, of helping terrorist groups and of espionage. There was optimism several months ago, including from Brunson's attorney who said in a radio interview that he expected the pastor's release at the time, followed by a decision by Turkish authorities to continue to hold the United States citizen under house arrest while he faced trial.

Andrew Brunson
USA in 'secret deal' with Turkey to release pastor

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

Brunson is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on Friday.

The deal is said to include a commitment by the U.S.to ease economic pressure on Turkey.

In a Middle East Eye report in late September, Turkish and United States officials said they were working to free Brunson.

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He has been forced to remain in Turkey for the past two years. That was echoed by Vice President Mike Pence, who declined to confirm any deal, but voiced hope Brunson would be released.

"We remain hopeful that with the court proceeding tomorrow that Turkey will see its way clear and free this good man who is guilty of nothing and who has been incarcerated for several years in Turkey unjustly", the vice-president told reporters at a briefing.

After last summer's failed agreement, Trump levied sanctions on two senior Turkish cabinet ministers, and Erdogan reciprocated against senior USA officials.

Congress, where anti-Turkey sentiment over the Brunson case has been high, passed legislation freezing the sale of 100 F-35 aircraft to Turkey and giving Defense Secretary Jim Mattis - who opposed the freeze - until next month to prepare a report on how it would affect US security and the defense industry.

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"Our strategic partnership, which has gone through difficulties so many times, will overcome this turbulent period", Erdogan said during an address at an investment conference held by the Turkey-US Business Council, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency.

The U.S. has sanctioned Turkish government ministers in response to their treatment of Brunson.

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USA in 'secret deal' with Turkey to release pastor