Turks tipped to free US pas­tor


Wash­ing­ton and Ankara were ex­pected to be­gin mend­ing re­la­tions with the likely re­lease last night of US pas­tor An­drew Brun­son from house ar­rest in Turkey, where he has faced ter­ror­ism and es­pi­onage charges.

Mr Brun­son, who has been held since 2016, was due to ap­pear in court near the coastal town of Izmir, where a judge is ex­pected to drop some charges and, at most, sen­tence him to time al­ready served, sources said yes­ter­day.

One source said Mr Brun­son — who ar­rived at Aliaga prison court in a se­cured con­voy be­fore day­break — also could be re­leased on tech­ni­cal grounds.

In any case, he is ex­pected to be handed back his pass­port and put on a plane to the US — an out­come peo­ple close to him said they would con­sider a vic­tory.

Of­fi­cials on both sides urged cau­tion, warn­ing a pre­vi­ous deal be­tween Turkey and the US for Mr Brun­son’s re­lease had col­lapsed at the last minute.

The evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor from North Carolina faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted. Mr Brun­son, 50, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, re­jects the charges and strongly main­tains his in­no­cence. He is one of thou­sands caught up in a crack­down that fol­lowed a failed coup in July 2016.

Prose­cu­tors ac­cuse Mr Brun­son of com­mit­ting crimes on be­half of ter­ror­ist groups, link­ing him to Kur­dish mil­i­tants and a net­work led by a US-based Turk­ish cleric Fethul­lah Gulen, who is ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing the coup at­tempt.

His re­lease could help im­prove re­la­tions be­tween Don­ald Trump and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, at a sen­si­tive time in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, as Ankara is seek­ing Wash­ing­ton’s sup­port to con­front Saudi Ara­bia over the dis­ap­pear­ance of Saudi journalist and dis­si­dent Ja­mal Khashoggi in Is­tan­bul.

Mr Brun­son’s re­lease would rep­re­sent a boon for Mr Trump and the Repub­li­can Party as they try to hold off a Demo­cratic surge in next month’s elec­tions and re­tain con­trol of congress. Mr Trump and Vice-Pres­i­dent Mike Pence have made se­cur­ing Mr Brun­son’s free­dom a pri­or­ity, and his case has be­come a cause for evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians.

“The Pres­i­dent and the ad­min­is­tra­tion have done an ex­cel­lent job of not only keep­ing the is­sue of Pas­tor Brun­son’s de­ten­tion at the fore­front but also us­ing all avail­able means to ob­tain his re­lease,” said Jay Seku­low, who is Mr Brun­son’s lawyer.

Peo­ple close to Mr Brun­son were hope­ful he would be re­leased af­ter last night’s hear­ing, but noted they have thought he was close to be­ing re­leased be­fore, only to see Turkey pro­long his de­ten­tion.

Yet eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pear to be bit­ing, giv­ing rise to re­newed op­ti­mism that Turkey may re­lent and send him back to the US, one per­son close to the Brun­son fam­ily said. “The eco­nomic im­pact has been pretty sig­nif­i­cant,” this per­son said.

Mr Brun­son’s de­ten­tion has been one of sev­eral im­ped­i­ments to the US re­la­tion­ship with Turkey, where a large state-owned bank, Halk­bank, is ac­cused by Amer­i­can prose­cu­tors of help­ing Iran evade sanc­tions and faces po­ten­tial fines in the billions of dollars.

Mr Er­do­gan had ini­tially hoped he could use Mr Brun­son as a bar­gain­ing chip in ne­go­ti­a­tions over the fine, said Soner Ca­gap­tay, di­rec­tor of the Turk­ish re­search pro­gram at the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute.

But the US slapped sanc­tions on Turk­ish govern­ment of­fi­cials this year, send­ing the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial mar­kets into a tail­spin.

He said Mr Er­do­gan has been seek­ing a way to re­pair re­la­tions with the US, but Turkey’s con­fronta­tion with Saudi Ara­bia has been a cat­a­lyst of sorts, since it high­lighted the fact that Ankara has few al­lies in the re­gion.


A car car­ry­ing Amer­i­can pas­tor An­drew Brun­son, sec­ond left, ar­rives at the Aliaga prison court ahead of his hear­ing last night

Kanye West greets first daugh­ter Ivanka Trump and shows Don­ald Trump a hy­dro­gen plane over Res­o­lute



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