Freed American pastor meets with Trump in Oval Office

Erika Holt
October 16, 2018

Turkish authorities freed pastor Andrew Brunson Friday after he's been held there for two years on house arrest, sparking a diplomatic fight between the us and Turkey.

"We thank God for answered prayers and commend the efforts of @SecPompeo & @StateDept in supporting Pastor Brunson and his family during this hard time", Pence said on Twitter.

Brunson returned to the USA aboard a military jet shortly before meeting the president.

Brunson was jailed two years ago and had been under house arrest since July.

Trump said he would meet the pastor as soon as he returns.

Brunson's homecoming amounts to a diplomatic - and possibly political - win for Trump and his evangelical base.

The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced North Carolina native Andrew Brunson to just over three years in prison for allegedly helping terror groups, but let him go because the 50-year-old evangelical pastor had already spent almost two years in detention.

Brunson appeared to be in good health and good spirits.

Brunson left his chair beside Trump, kneeled and placed a hand on the president's shoulder. "It's a time to jump and dance and give thanks to God". "I don't make deals for hostages", he tweeted. Fill him with your wisdom and strength and perseverance. "But we're very happy to have him and have him in good shape". May he be a great blessing to our country.

Andrew Brunson was imprisoned for two years in Turkey on terror-related charges, leading to a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. "There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States".

The court dropped an espionage charge against Brunson, who had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges against him.

Brunson's detention caused not just one of the worst diplomatic rows of recent times between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies Turkey and the United States, but also led to a crash in the Turkish lira which exposed the country's economic fragility.

Where previous administrations kept negotiations over US prisoners held overseas close to the vest, Trump has elevated them to causes célèbres, striking a tough line with allies and foes alike. He also thanked members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who had worked for his release.

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Erdogan later tweeted that the country's judiciary decided independently on the Brunson ruling, and looked forward to better bilateral relations and a "common struggle" against terrorist organizations including Islamic State. Trump authorized a doubling of duties on aluminum and steel imported from Turkey in August, and Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on USA cars, alcohol and tobacco imports.

While Trump said no concessions were made to Turkey to secure Brunson's release, the question is whether the US will move on its own to ease sanctions imposed in recent months that have added to the difficulties facing the country's economy.

Brunson led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. First word of Brunson's arrival back on American soil Saturday came from Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Pastor Andrew Brunson was expected to land at Joint Base Andrews near Washington at around noon EDT (1600 GMT) on Saturday after a stop in Germany for a medical check-up.

"This is a necessary but far from sufficient step to reverse what has been a deepening rift between the United States and Turkey, two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies", said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Erdogan also called for joint efforts against terrorism, and he listed the Islamic State group, Kurdish militants and the network of a USA -based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016.

Trump's frustration over Brunson's continued detention became the dominant issue between the USA and Turkey in recent months.

An American pastor flew out of Turkey on Friday after a Turkish court convicted him of terror links but freed him from house arrest, removing a major irritant in fraught ties between two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies still strained by disagreements over Syria, Iran and a host of other issues.

Hours later, Brunson was flown out of Turkey, his home for more than two decades.

"I love Jesus. I love Turkey", an emotional Brunson, who had maintained his innocence, told the court at Friday's hearing.

Brunson, who lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, denied the accusations and Washington had demanded his immediate release.

Saudi officials reject the claim as "baseless". "Burdened definitely. But also hopeful ultimately".

From Turkey's side, the USA hasn't shown any movement toward meeting Erdogan's long-standing demand to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a prominent Turkish cleric living in exile in the US whom Erdogan has blamed for the coup.

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