Finally, after an excruciatingly long wait of almost two years, it appears the incarceration of United States pastor Andrew Brunson will finally come to an end. According to NBC News, the White House has brokered a deal to secure Brunson’s freedom:
The White House expects North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson to be released by the Turkish government and returned to the U.S. in the coming days, two years after he was detained, according to two senior administration officials and another person briefed on the matter.
Under an agreement senior Trump administration officials recently reached with Turkey, Brunson is supposed to be released after certain charges against him are dropped at his next court hearing, currently scheduled for Friday, the senior administration officials and a person briefed on the matter said.
The details of the deal are unclear, but those familiar with the discussions said it includes a commitment by the U.S. to ease economic pressure on Turkey.
The White House, however, isn’t spiking the football and celebrating just yet. They are cautiously awaiting until Brunson gets home before any congratulations are issued. According to the NBC report, Trump administration officials aren’t “fully confident” that Turkey will actually go through with the agreement.
This makes sense, given the many false starts in the past several weeks, where Trump officials issued positive sounding statements to the press about Brunson’s imminent release, only to have talks stall.
Brunson has been held for almost two years trumped-up on wide-ranging charges of conspiring to overthrow the Turkish government. Despite being moved to house arrest in July after increasing pressure from the US government, the pastor remains under the control of the authorities.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led a sustained diplomatic effort to have the pastor released, recently declared that Brunson “should have been released last month,” and that he expects “he could be released this month,” according to the Financial Times.
“He should be released today in fact,” Pompeo said at the time, while applying political pressure to secure the release. “We have talked to the Turks. They know the expectations.”
The Secretary of State said that “Pastor Brunson and the other U.S. persons that are being held by Turkey all need to be released by Turkey.”
“That needs to be done immediately,” he added.
Relations have not been good between the United States and Turkey, with Brunson becoming caught up in a protracted political feud. At the beginning of August, the U.S. Treasury slapped hefty economic sanctions upon two Turkish officials who were largely responsible for the jailing of an American missionary. The Turkish government, however, have refused to budge on the matter.
“This is a judiciary matter,” Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters at the time. “Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges … 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.”
“I don’t have the right to order his release,” Erdogan added. “Our judiciary is independent. Let’s wait and see what the court will decide.”
Despite the hefty economic sanctions causing the Turkish Lira to drop significantly in value against the dollar, Erdogan insisted that the diplomatic dispute between the two nations is not having an adverse effect on his nation’s economy. “The Brunson case is not even closely related to Turkey’s economy. The current economic challenges have been exaggerated more than necessary and Turkey will overcome these challenges with its own resources,” the President declared.