WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - Turkey took a major step forward in easing strained relations with the Trump administration, as US Pastor Andrew Brunson was ordered released, following a Turkish court hearing on Friday.
Brunson, an evangelical Protestant cleric, had been detained in Turkey for two years on the improbable charge that he had supported a coup, led by the Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the US had reached a deal with Ankara for Brunson’s release “soon after” Friday’s hearing, with his sentence cut to time served or that he would be allowed to return to the US to finish what might remain of his sentence.
That is what happened on Friday. The Turkish court convicted Brunson of some terror-related charges, but dropped other charges of espionage. It then gave him a sentence of three years, but reduced that to two years for good behavior, and he was freed.
The US, for its part, according to the Post, had promised to lift sanctions on Turkey and refrain from imposing any further economic measures.
However, until the announcement of the Turkish court’s decision, US officials had remained extremely cautious in their public statements, saying only they were “very hopeful.”
In July, following the NATO summit in Brussels, they believed that Trump had reached an understanding with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for Brunson’s freedom, only to feel double-crossed when that did not happen.
Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey’s parliament and now a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, responded to the Turkish court decision with a series of tweets noting that “four witnesses appear to have changed their testimony” since the original charges against Brunson were filed.
As Erdemir concluded, “Today’s shocking developments in the show trial against #AndrewBrunson have provided further proof to my claim that the pastor was framed as part of a well-orchestrated plot involving false testimonies to be used as a bargaining chip as part of #Erdogan’s #HostageDiplomacy.
Nonetheless, Brunson’s release removes a major irritant in US-Turkish relations, which have been strained over his imprisonment, as well as Turkey’s intended purchase of a sophisticated Russian air defense system and US support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Editing by John J. Catherine