The Trump administration and the Turkish government have reportedly reached an agreement for the release of Rev. Andrew Brunson.
NBC News, citing two unnamed senior administration officials and another briefed on the matter, reported that under the terms of the deal, Brunson would be released after certain charges are dropped against him at a hearing which is scheduled for Friday.
The officials cautioned that Turkey may not follow through on the agreement, noting the administration thought it was very close to securing the pastor’s release in July.
Brunson, 50, was arrested in October 2016 and has been held in Turkey for the last two years on espionage and terrorism-related charges. He faces a sentence of up to 35 years in prison.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan claims the North Carolina preacher supported a failed 2016 coup attempt.
Brunson has lived in Turkey for more than two decades leading the Resurrection Church in the city of Izmir, in the western part of the country.
“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,” an administration official said.
NBC NEWS EXCLUSIVE: White House expects North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson to be released by Turkish government and return to US in coming days https://t.co/oHwW4009sN
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) October 11, 2018
“An agreement on Brunson’s release was advanced in discussions last month between Turkish and U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, during the gathering of world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the senior administration officials and person briefed on the matter said,” according to NBC News.
The deal is believed to involve the easing of economic sanctions put in place in August after Turkey refused to release Brunson.
At that time, Trump also authorized the doubling of existing steel and aluminum tariffs against Turkey, The Washington Post reported.
Further, Congress passed legislation freezing the sale of 100 F-35 fighter aircraft.
In a speech Wednesday night, Pompeo expressed confidence Brunson would be released soon.
“I’m very hopeful that before too long, Pastor Brunson will — he and his wife will be able to return to the United States,” he stated. “President Trump has had a focus on it, the administration’s had a focus on it, and we’re very hopeful that we’ll see a good outcome before too long.”
Last last month at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Pompeo said securing the release of three American prisoners, including a pastor, from North Korea had been the most rewarding experience to date of his tenure at the State Department.
He promised the evangelical crowd on hand that the U.S. was doing everything in its power to free Brunson.
“He has been wrongly held,” Pompeo said. “And his proper place is to be able to return here to once again practice his faith in our great nation.”
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