Tuesday, 25 June, 2019

Andrew Brunson: Hopes rising as US pastor due to court

NBC News: US Pastor to Be Released After Secret Turkey Deal Trump administration cautiously optimistic pastor jailed in Turkey will be freed
Deanna Wagner | 12 October, 2018, 11:49

Two senior administration officials said there was no deal with Turkey for Brunson. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because officials had not yet reached a final agreement on the release and it could still fall through.

"President Trump, our administration, has made it clear that we will continue to stand strong until pastor Brunson is free and back home in the United States with his family and his church".

The Thursday comments come a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was hopeful that Turkey would release the pastor soon, ending a two-year detention that has shaken relations between the one-time allies.

Sources told NBC that negotiations regarding Brunson's release between Turkish and US officials - which included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton - were "advanced in discussions" in September at the UN General Assembly.

Brunson, a longtime resident of Turkey, has been under house arrest since October 2016 on terror and espionage allegations.

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".

The secret deal is reportedly tied to a commitment to ease economic sanctions on Turkey and will lead to some charges being dropped against Brunson at his next court hearing Friday, sources told NBC News.

On July 25, citing Brunson's health problems, an Izmir court ordered him moved from jail to house arrest. Brunson is facing terrorism charges, which he denies.

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Turkey runs "a risk of the US Treasury announcing a substantial fine on Halkbank for violating US sanctions on Iran", its analysts said of the Turkish state-owned bank, adding that, "if Brunson is not released, the odds of Turkey receiving an Iran sanctions waiver from the US in early November for continued oil imports also go down significantly". Charges against him, which he and the Trump administration have said are bogus, include contacts with the so-called coup mastermind, Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, a permanent USA resident living in Pennsylvania and a longtime political foe of Erdogan.

The Turkish lira firmed on the report.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told journalists on Monday that his country's court rulings apply to everyone, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported.

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

The American pastor is charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016.

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

Brunson is under house arrest but could get up to 35 years in prison if convicted on charges that his lawyers say are baseless.