President Donald Trump Thanks Turkey for Pastor’s Release, Denies Cutting Deal
President Donald Trump said the release of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson after two years in Turkish custody was a “tremendous step” toward improved relations with Turkey, but he denied cutting a deal with Ankara.
A Turkish court on Friday sentenced Brunson, who had been charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, to more than three years in prison but said he would not serve any further time because he had already been detained since October 2016.
The pastor’s release could signal a thaw in relations between the two NATO allies, which worsened in August after a deal to free Brunson fell apart and Trump authorized a doubling of duties on aluminium and steel imported from Turkey, helping drive the lira currency down against the dollar.
U.S. President Donald Trump closes his eyes in prayer along with Pastor Andrew Brunson, after his release from two years of Turkish detention, in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, U.S., October 13, 2018.
In front of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, U.S. lawmakers and Brunson’s family, the pastor knelt beside Trump on the floor of the Oval Office, placed a hand on his shoulder, and prayed for God to give him “supernatural wisdom.”
Trump also thanked President Tayyip Erdogan at Saturday’s meeting for helping secure Brunson’s release, despite a curt Twitter post from the Turkish leader earlier on Saturday repeating that Brunson’s release was a court’s decision to make, not his.
“Dear Mr. President, as I always pointed out, the Turkish judiciary reached its decision independently,” Erdogan wrote on his Twitter account.
“I hope that the United States and Turkey will continue their cooperation as the allies that they are, and fight together against terrorist groups.”