Washington ‘can’t imagine’ exchanging Fethullah Gülen with arrested American pastor
The United States will not consider extraditing Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gülen in exchange for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been in jail in Turkey since October 2016, a government official has said.
“I can’t imagine that we would go down that road,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters during a press briefing on Sept. 28 when asked about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent remarks.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on the United States to exchange Gülen, widely believed to have orchestrated the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, with Pastor Brunson.
“We have given you all the documents necessary [for the extradition of Gülen]. But they say, ‘give us the pastor.’ You have another pastor on your hands. Give us that pastor and we will do what we can in the judiciary to give you this one,” Erdoğan said earlier on Sept. 28.
Brunson was taken into custody on Oct. 7, 2016 on suspicions of “being a threat to national security.”
Erdoğan did not detail when or to whom he made this proposal. His last meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump took place on Sept. 21 in New York.
“You say you have a judiciary, do you think we don’t? Anyway, the one that we have [in our hands] is being tried, the one you have [in your hands] is not being tried. It is easier for you to give,” Erdoğan said in his speech.
Nauert said U.S. President Trump raised the issue of Branson’s arrest with Erdoğan.
“That is a very important issue for us, to try to get Pastor Brunson home,” said the spokesperson.
“It is something that the president had raised with Mr. Erdoğan not too terribly long ago. The State Department has been in as close of contact as we can be with Pastor Brunson. We were last able to visit him on Sept. 18. That’s a new bit of news. The last time that we had visited him was—let’s see, it was Aug. 24. And we just—we continue to advocate for his release. He was wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey and we would like to see him brought home,” she said.
“We have received several requests for his extradition from the Turkish government,” said Nauert, regarding Turkey’s request for Gülen’s extradition.
“Though—that is something—we have not talked about this for a while … We continue to evaluate it [and] take a look at the materials that the Turkish government has provided us,” she said.