US, Turkey said to reach deal on release of American pastor

Pauline Gross
October 12, 2018

An American pastor may soon be released after two years of captivity in Turkey.

Sources told NBC that negotiations regarding Brunson's release between Turkish and USA 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. He has been forced to remain in Turkey for the past two years.

"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", the outlet quoted another unnamed senior administration official as saying. "We're hopeful but it's a fluid situation", said one official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The US congress has also threatened to restrict billions of dollars in global financial loans to Turkey and block F-35 jet deliveries if it continues to hold Mr Brunson, and if it acquired the Russian S-400 missile defence system. "It is time that we close this ugly chapter in our relations".

The U.S. has sanctioned Turkish government ministers in response to their treatment of Brunson. Despite being moved to house arrest in July after increasing pressure from the U.S. government, the pastor remains under the control of the authorities.

The court on Friday called two witnesses following tips from witness Levent Kalkan, who at the previous hearing had accused Brunson of aiding terror groups. "Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges ..."

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Turkey has good financial and strategic reasons to release the American, analysts say, including the threat of further USA sanctions related to Brunson, and its purchases of Russian weaponry and Iranian oil.

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".

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that the hopeful he will soon go free but said she was unaware of any agreement on his release. 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.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resisted USA demands for Brunson's release, insisting that the courts are independent.

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. Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. He faces a possible sentence of up to 35 years in prison if convicted.

Other reports by GizPress

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