ALIAGA, Turkey – The Trump Administration has secured the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who flew out of Turkey late Friday after a Turkish court convicted him of aiding terrorism but sentenced him only to time served.
His release came one day after U.S. officials said a deal had been reached with Turkey’s government to secure his freedom.
U.S. officials said Thursday that the two governments had negotiated an agreement that would see Brunson released in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions on two senior Turkish cabinet ministers — penalties imposed to gain leverage in the Brunson case. The deal was reached on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month, the officials said.
White House spokesman Judd Deere confirmed Brunson’s departure, saying he was due to arrive at Joint Base Andrews at noon Saturday after a stop in Germany, according to a pool report.
The case of the evangelical Christian preacher caught up in Turkey’s post-coup security sweep had garnered attention at the highest levels of the U.S. government and become a sore point in the two countries’ relationship.
Brunson, 50, had been detained for two years on terrorism- and espionage-related charges that the pastor and U.S. officials said were false.
“We’re very honored to have him back with us. He suffered greatly,” President Trump told reporters, saying the pastor would visit the White House perhaps as soon as Saturday. “There was no deal at all,” Trump added. “No deal.”
In Turkey, Brunson’s attorney, Ismail Cem Halavurt, acknowledged that his client was returning to the United States but added, “I hope he is able to come back.”
By Erin Michelle Cunningham