US and Turkey reach deal to free detained American pastor: Reports
Andrew Brunson, missionary working in Turkey for more than 20 years, was arrested in December 2016 (Reuters)
The United States and Turkey have quietly agreed to a deal that involves the release of jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions, US news outlets reported on Tuesday.
Senior White House officials told NBC News they believe that charges against Brunson will be dropped at his next hearing, set for Friday.
Brunson, a missionary who has worked in Turkey for more than 20 years, was arrested in December 2016 and accused of backing a coup attempt that July against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The US has been adamant that Brunson is innocent and has repeatedly asked Turkey to free him.
"I am very hopeful that before too long … he and his wife will be able to return to the United States," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.
“President Trump has had a focus on it, the administrations had a focus on it, and were very hopeful that well see a good outcome before too long,” he added.
US officials with knowledge of the situation told the Washington Post they are cautiously optimistic the deal will go through.
On Thursday, the US State Department said it wasn't aware of any deal. That was echoed by Vice President Mike Pence, who declined to confirm any deal, but voiced hope Brunson would be released.
"We remain hopeful that with the court proceeding tomorrow that Turkey will see its way clear and free this good man who is guilty of nothing and who has been incarcerated for several years in Turkey unjustly," Pence said.
"President Trump, our administration, has made it clear that we will continue to stand strong until pastor Brunson is free and back home in the US with his family and his church."
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In a Middle East Eye report in late September, Turkish and US officials said they were working to free Brunson.
“There is a will on both sides to solve this problem,” said a US diplomat. “We both want to leave this problem behind and focus on other areas to further our cooperation; especially Manbij, trade relations, and so on.”
A previous deal to get Brunson freed collapsed in July when a Turkish court decided to place the American pastor under house arrest.
US President Donald Trump, at the time, tweeted that the US would impose sanctions on Turkey, adding: "This innocent man of faith should be released immediately”.
The US has imposed tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminium over Ankara's refusal to release the pastor.
The row with the US has exacerbated pressures on Turkey's lira, which has plunged more than 40 percent this year over concerns about Erdogan's influence on monetary policy, relations with Washington and the central bank's ability to rein in double-digit inflation.
Erdogan has cast the devaluation in the lira as an "economic war" against Turkey by foreign powers, and has warned of action against those believed to be speculating on the economy or taking advantage of fluctuating exchange rates.