US Pastor to Be Released After Secret Turkey Deal

BREAKING White House Reaches Deal With Turkey to Free Jailed US Pastor Andrew Brunson  image Getty Center for Law and Justice

The court in the western town of Aliaga convicted Andrew Brunson on terror-related charges and sentenced him to three years, one month and 15 days in jail, an AFP correspondent said.

Friday's decision could be a first step to ease tensions, although Turkey's presidency took aim at what it said was a prolonged US effort to put pressure on its courts. But Brunson maintained his innocence, telling the court, "I love Jesus".

The case against Mr Brunson, an evangelical preacher from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, has led to U.S. tariffs and sanctions against Turkey and drawn condemnation from President Donald Trump.

Prosecutors had accused Brunson of acting on behalf of terror groups, specifically linking him to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by US -based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

But Turkey insists the judiciary is independent and US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was "not aware" of any such deal.

"Our strategic partnership, which has gone through difficulties so many times, will overcome this turbulent period", Erdogan said during an address at an investment conference held by the Turkey-US Business Council, according to Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency. Several of Brunson's parishioners testified as witnesses, both for and against him.

Brunson is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on Friday.

Brunson's release comes just 10 days after the disappearance of USA -based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Sources told NBC that negotiations regarding Brunson's release between Turkish and USA officials - which included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton - were "advanced in discussions" in September at the UN General Assembly.

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"I pray Pastor Brunson can now return home and he and his family can move on with their lives", said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-Concord, in a statement.

Brunson, 50, has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years. His lawyer said the electronic ankle bracelet for monitoring was removed. Brunson denied the accusation and Washington had demanded his immediate release.

Brunson flew out from Izmir, Turkey on Friday evening, and has left Turkish airspace en route to Germany.

After the two countries failed to make progress on negotiations for Brunson's release in August, President Donald Trump doubled the rates of import taxes on Turkish metals.

Additionally, Turkey could now hope that the USA will lift tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports, injecting some confidence into an economy rattled by high inflation and a mountain of foreign currency debt.

Brunson had been accused of collaborating with terrorist groups and participating in a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. If the pastor remains under Turkish arrest, ties between Ankara and Washington will worsen and Erdogan faces the prospect of more sanctions, not just for Brunson but for Turkey's recent purchase of Russian S400 defense missiles.

The diplomatic stand-off over Brunson, who led a small congregation at the Izmir Resurrection Church, accelerated a sell-off in Turkey's currency, worsening a financial crisis.

Brunson was arrested and detained for 18 months before finally being charged by the Turkish government with a connection to the coup attempt.

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