WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - US media has reported that the US anticipates that Pastor Andrew Brunson will be released following a Turkish court hearing on Friday.
At the same time, US officials remained extremely cautious in their public statements. Following the NATO summit in Brussels in July, they believed that US President Donald 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.
Brunson, an evangelical Protestant cleric, has been detained in Turkey for two years on the improbable charge that he supported a coup, led by the Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen.
The Washington Post claimed on Thursday that the US had reached a deal with Ankara in which Brunson would be released “soon after” Friday’s hearing, with his sentence cut to the two years he has already served in prison, or that he would be allowed to return to the US to serve his remaining sentence.
Of course, it is extremely unlikely that if the latter decision were reached, the Trump administration would imprison Brunson, but it would allow Turkish officials to save face, as they could blame the US for not keeping its part of the deal.
In exchange, the US would lift sanctions on Turkey and refrain from imposing any further economic measures against it.
Brunson’s release is a high priority for the Trump White House.
On Wednesday evening, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described himself as “very hopeful” that Brunson and his wife would be able to return to the US “before too long.”
On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence, repeated, “We remain hopeful” that Brunson will be freed, emphasizing that we have “made it clear that we will continue to stand strong until Pastor Brunson is free.”
Heather Nauert, State Department Spokesperson, affirmed on Thursday that “the entire US Government has followed” the case “very very closely.”
The US embassy in Ankara has been “very engaged” on the matter, she said, “providing assistance and support” for Brunson and his family.
She also noted that Turkey continues to detain a NASA scientist, who is a US citizen, as well as locally employed staff.
All of them were caught up in the mass arrests that followed Turkey’s failed July 15, 2016, coup.
If Brunson is, indeed, released, it will mark a major turning point in US-Turkish relations, which have been strained over this issue, as well as Turkey’s intended purchase of a sophisticated Russian air defense system and US support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
The Washington Post cited a European diplomat proposing this scenario: the Turkish court would likely give Brunson a four-to-five year sentence and then order him deported from Turkey.
“For Erdogan, it’s important that he’s not seen as giving in to US pressure,” the diplomat said, “that he lets the judicial process take its course and he shows that Brunson is guilty.”
Editing by Nadia Riva