US Pastor to Be Released After Secret Turkey Deal

NBC News: US Pastor to Be Released After Secret Turkey Deal

NBC News: US Pastor to Be Released After Secret Turkey Deal

One senior administration official express skepticism Turkey is going to carry through on its end of the deal Friday, because there had been and agreement to release him before that had fallen through, according to the report.

The Trump administration, however, remains cautious, because, an official told NBC, Ankara reneged on an agreement several months ago to release Brunson.

He added that the Trump administration had "made it clear that we will continue to stand strong until Pastor Brunson is free".

Trump slapped Turkey with economic sanctions in August over Brunson's imprisonment.

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 NY. In court on Friday, the prosecution is expected to introduce two new secret witnesses, but Brunson's lawyer Cem Halavurt said their testimonies were not germane to the case. There was optimism several months ago, including from Brunson's attorney who said in a radio interview that he expected the pastor's release at the time, followed by a decision by Turkish authorities to continue to hold the U.S. citizen under house arrest while he faced trial.

Turkey and the USA have faced rocky relations following Washington's imposition of sanctions over Brunson's detention.

The Brunson case has grown into the biggest of several disputes between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies and has been one of the factors in a 40 percent slide in value of the Turkish lira this year.

News reports, citing senior administration officials and an individual briefed on the matter, that "under an agreement recently reached with Turkey, Brunson is supposed to be released after certain charges against him are dropped at his next court hearing".

The Post said the deal included lifting US sanctions, some already imposed and others threatened. That was echoed by Vice President Mike Pence, who declined to confirm any deal, but voiced hope Brunson would be released.

Brunson's charges include spying for the PKK - listed as a terrorist group by both the USA and Turkey - and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) - the group behind the defeated coup attempt in Turkey of July 2016.

"This is a judiciary matter", Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters at the time.

In a Middle East Eye report in late September, Turkish and United States officials said they were working to free Brunson. He has denied the accusation - as has Gulen - and Washington has demanded his immediate release.

Relations have not been good between the United States and Turkey, with Brunson becoming caught up in a protracted political feud.

Jailed or held under house arrest since October 2016, Brunson faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.