The White House expects North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson to be released by the Turkish government and returned to the U.S. in the coming days, two years after he was detained, according to two senior administration officials and another person briefed on the matter, NBC News reported.
Under an agreement senior Trump administration officials recently reached with Turkey, Brunson is supposed to be released after certain charges against him are dropped at his next court hearing, currently scheduled for Friday, the senior administration officials and a person briefed on the matter said.
The details of the deal are unclear, but those familiar with the discussions said it includes a commitment by the U.S. to ease economic pressure on Turkey.
The Trump administration, however, isn’t fully confident that Turkey will follow through with the Brunson agreement because Ankara was close to a commitment to release him several months ago but did not, one senior administration official said.
“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,” a third senior administration official said.
Meanwhile, Brunson’s trial resumed Friday in Turkey – the fourth hearing of the case against him began in a prison complex near the western city of Izmir, CBS News adds. The evangelical pastor is accused of terror-related charges and espionage, facing up to 35 years in jail if convicted.
Fifty-year-old Brunson, 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 wide-scale government crackdown that followed a failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.
Prosecutors accuse Brunson of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups, linking him to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who is accused of orchestrating the coup attempt. The U.S. maintains he is being held unjustly and has repeatedly called for his release.
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.