Published: Fri, October 12, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

USA 'hopeful' on pastor's release, unaware of a deal with Turkey

USA 'hopeful' on pastor's release, unaware of a deal with Turkey

News reports two senior administration officials and another person briefed on the matter say certain charges against Brunson will be dropped at a court hearing scheduled for Friday.

"We continue to believe Pastor Brunson is innocent, and the hearing on Friday is another opportunity for the Turkish judicial system to free an American citizen", a third senior administration official told NBC. It had moved Brunson from prison to house arrest in July.

The agreement - part of which was negotiated at last month's U.N. General Assembly meeting, attended by President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - will either lead to Brunson's immediate release Friday, or his freeing within a few days, said officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the still-secret arrangement. 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 source cautioned that USA 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.

The evangelical pastor is accused of terror-related charges and espionage, facing up to 35 years if convicted.

The trial against an American pastor at the heart of a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States has resumed in Turkey.

"I am very hopeful that before too long Pastor Brunson will, he and his wife will be able to return to the United States", Pompeo said at an event Wednesday. That was echoed by Vice President Mike Pence, who declined to confirm any deal, but voiced hope Brunson would be released.

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"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.

Brunson, whose possible release was first reported by NBC, has been held since 2016 and his imprisonment led to a rapid decline in relations between Turkey and the U.S. after President Donald Trump took up his case, and the administration elevated religious freedom as a cause. "On Oct. 12 there will be another hearing and we don't know what the court will decide and politicians will have no say on the verdict".

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

More than 50,000 people were arrested in Turkey in President Erdogan's huge post-coup crackdown.

Turkey wants the USA to agree to his extradition.

He blames Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen for the attempt, but Mr Gulen denies any involvement.

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