NBC News reported Thursday that the White House has reached a secret arrangement with Turkey to secure the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson who has been detained there for two years.
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, currently 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 senior administration official said.
NBC reports that Brunson’s release was discussed in September when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton met with Turkish officials at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Pastor Brunson, an evangelical from North Carolina, was arrested in Izmir, Turkey in October 2016, and was accused, without any evidence, of helping terrorist groups and of espionage.
Trump slapped Turkey with economic sanctions in August over Brunson’s imprisonment.
The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
Those familiar with the deal told NBC that “it includes a commitment by the U.S. to ease economic pressure on 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.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday, in response to a question about NBC's report, that they "don't have any further information" on whether Brunson will be released and are not aware of any such deal.
On US pastor imprisoned in #Turkey, for whom a court hearing is scheduled today, @statedeptspox replies to @cindysaine: "We don't have any further information" on whether he is about to be released and not aware of any such deal (as @NBCNews reported). pic.twitter.com/SOyQmFm3qQ— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) October 11, 2018