USA 'hopeful' on pastor's release, unaware of a deal with Turkey

USA 'hopeful' on pastor's release, unaware of a deal with Turkey”

The Trump administration is cautiously optimistic that an American cleric who has been held in Turkey for the past two years on espionage and terrorism-related charges will be released soon after a court hearing Friday, according to US officials and people close to the case.

According to a report on NBC News, the agreement was reached "recently", and the release is expected to come after a Friday hearing in Turkey's top court leads to the dropping of espionage charges against Brunson.

State Department officials denied there had been any agreement, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was "hopeful" that Turkey would release him soon.

Hopes are rising that American pastor Andrew Brunson may be freed, more than two years after he was first detained in Turkey.

One of the witnesses, called "Sword" by prosecutors, claimed to have seen Brunson's wife at a Christian gathering in Western Turkey, according to testimony to prosecutors published by the Hurriyet newspaper.

NBC's sources explained that much of the deal is unknown, but it will require the back down on economic pressures.

A Turkish official declined to comment on the deal, citing the ongoing judicial process.

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

The American pastor is charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016.

"President Trump has had a focus on it, the administration has had a focus on it, and we're very hopeful that we'll see a good outcome before too long", Pompeo told the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

"We are determined to fight this twisted attitude that has attempted to impose sanctions on our country by using a pastor who has dark ties to terror groups as the pretext", Erdogan said.

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 US security and the defense industry.

However, US Vice-President Mike Pence would only say "we remain hopeful".

Brunson, whose possible release was first reported by NBC, has been held since 2016 and his imprisonment led to a rapid decline in relations between Turkey and the U.S. after President Donald Trump took up his case, and the administration elevated religious freedom as a cause.

More than 50,000 people were arrested in Turkey in President Erdogan's huge post-coup crackdown. Brunson has denied the accusation - as has Gulen - and Washington has demanded his immediate release. "We both want to leave this problem behind and focus on other areas to further our cooperation; especially Manbij, trade relations, and so on".

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