Turkey, US deny ‘deal’ over pastor Brunson’s release
There has been no deal between Ankara and Washington to return U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson to his home country, who was under house arrest in Turkey’s İzmir province, the two sides have said.
“There was no deal made at all. There was no deal. But we’re very happy to have him and have him in good shape,” U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters in Cincinnati on Oct. 12.
Brunson is expected to be hosted by Trump at the White House once he arrives in Washington where he has headed to after a brief stop in Germany.
Brunson was sentenced to more than 3 years jail time over terrorism and spying charges on Oct. 12 but he was able to return home because the court lifted house arrest and travel ban decisions.
He was released due to time spent behind bars and under house arrest, 2 years and 3 months respectively.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik denied claims that Turkey has bowed to pressure to release Brunson.
“If those claims were true Turkey would have bowed when unprecedented economic attacks took place,” he said on Oct. 13.
Following Brunson’s release, Turkish presidential communication director said that Turkey has shown it is a democratic state with an impartial and independent judiciary.
“Court ruling on Andrew Brunson reaffirmed that Turkey is a democratic country with the rule of law, and established the independence and impartiality of the Turkish judiciary,” Fahrettin Altun said in a statement.
“Like the Turkish courts, the Republic of Turkey does not receive instructions from any body, authority, office or person. We make our own rules and make our own decisions that reflect our will,” he added.
Altun said that Turkey monitored U.S. efforts to “mount pressure on Turkey’s independent court system for some time”, stating that Turkey “has been subject to various threats of sanctions”.
Reaffirming President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stance against the threats, Altun said that Erdoğan “urged all parties to respect the court’s final decision.”
Çavuşoğlu speaks with Pompeo
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo spoke over the phone following the release of U.S. pastor, a Turkish diplomatic source told state-run Anadolu Agency, giving no details.
After his release, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Turkey to free “quickly” other Americans in detention.
“The world should know that U.S. President Donald Trump and the State Department continue to work hard to bring home all American hostages and those wrongfully imprisoned and detained,” Pompeo tweeted.
NASA scientist Serkan Gölge, a dual US-Turkish national, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years in February on terror charges, a term reduced to five years last month.
And two Turkish employees of US diplomatic missions remain in jail. One of them, former Adana consulate staffer Hamza Uluçay, was on Oct. 12 denied release in a separate court hearing.
U.S. broadcaster NBC said on Oct. 11 that Washington had done a secret deal with Ankara to secure Brunson’s release.
Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, told Reuters that active engagement by Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contributed to Brunson’s release.
“A lot of factors played into this,” Tillis said, adding U.S. was trying to “get back to a point of a positive relationship” with Turkey.
Relations between the two NATO allies have been under serious strain over U.S. support for YPG in northern Syria, Turkey’s plans to buy Russian S-400 missile defense system, and the U.S. jailing of an executive at a Turkish state bank in an Iran sanctions-busting case.
Some observers point that Turkey now may hope the U.S. will lift tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports, a move that would inject confidence into an economy rattled by high inflation and foreign currency debt.