US Pastor to Be Released After Secret Turkey Deal

NBC News: US Pastor to Be Released After Secret Turkey Deal

The United States and Turkey have quietly agreed to a deal that involves the release of jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions, USA news outlets reported on Tuesday.

NBC cited sources as saying that under an agreement USA officials reached recently with Turkey, Brunson would be released after certain charges against him were dropped at his next court hearing.

The American pastor Andrew Brunson could be released in Turkey on Friday nearly two years after his arrest, following secret talks between Washington and Ankara.

The pastor was imprisoned for almost two years before being placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.

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

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.

The prosecutor in American pastor Andrew Brunson's case demanded up to 10 years in prison for terror charges while asking judicial control measures to be lifted.

Brunson has been accused of backing outlawed Kurdish rebels and the network led by USA -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. "Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges ..."

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Late on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said releasing Brunson would be the right thing for Turkey to do.

If the pastor remains under Turkish arrest, ties between Ankara and Washington will worsen and Erdogan faces the prospect of more sanctions, not just for Brunson but for Turkey's recent purchase of Russian S400 defense missiles.

The deal, they said, would include the lifting of US sanctions in exchange for reduced charges that would allow Brunson to either be sentenced for time served or serve any remaining sentence in the United States.

"This is a judiciary matter", Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters at the time.

Brunson again denied accusations that his church aided Kurdish militants, saying he had handed over a list of Syrian refugees the congregation had helped and adding that Turkish authorities would have identified any terrorists.

The evangelical pastor was accused of terror-related charges and espionage, facing up to 35 years in prison.

The court's decision of house arrest had 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.

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