USA and Turkey reach deal to free detained American pastor

BREAKING White House Reaches Deal With Turkey to Free Jailed US Pastor Andrew Brunson  image Getty Center for Law and Justice

U.S. officials believe they're on the verge of securing the release of Andrew Brunson, the American pastor jailed by Turkey on accusations he helped plot a coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to a source familiar with the matter.

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, now scheduled for Friday, the senior administration officials and a person briefed on the matter 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 USA with his family and his church", added Pence, a devout Christian who has worked to free Brunson for the last two years.

Turkey has good financial and strategic reasons to release the American, analysts say, including the threat of further United States sanctions related to Brunson, and its purchases of Russian weaponry and Iranian oil.

If the court lifts Brunson's house arrest order on Friday and doesn't impose a new travel ban, he will be free to leave the country.

Two senior administration officials said there was no deal with Turkey for Brunson.

News and The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the United States and Turkey had reached an agreement in which some charges against Brunson would be dropped and he would be released at the hearing or soon after.

Mr Brunson is a long-term resident in Turkey.

Congress, where anti-Turkey sentiment over the Brunson case has been high, passed legislation freezing the sale of 100 F-35 aircraft to Turkey and giving Defense Secretary Jim Mattis - who opposed the freeze - until next month to prepare a report on how it would affect USA security and the defense industry. Turkey runs "a risk of the US Treasury announcing a substantial fine on Halkbank for violating US sanctions on Iran", its analysts said of the Turkish state-owned bank, adding that, "if Brunson is not released, the odds of Turkey receiving an Iran sanctions waiver from the US in early November for continued oil imports also go down significantly".

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

Andrew Craig Brunson, 50, who is backed by the White House in his contention the charges have been manufactured for political purposes, was arrested in December 2016 after serving more than two decades in Turkey.

Those familiar with the deal told NBC that "it includes a commitment by the U.S.to ease economic pressure on Turkey".

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.

However, Vice-President Mike Pence would only say "we remain hopeful" ahead of a scheduled court appearance.

The Turkish lira firmed on the report.

An American pastor may soon be released after two years of captivity in Turkey. Brunson has denied the accusation - as has Gulen - and Washington has demanded his immediate release.

Brunson faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

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