WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump thanked his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his “help” in securing the release of US pastor Andrew Brunson, who spent two years in a Turkish prison and who will meet with Trump in the White House on Saturday.
The US president said via Twitter that the meeting with Brunson is scheduled to take place at 2:30 pm in the Oval Office.
“Pastor Andrew Brunson, released by Turkey, will be with me in the Oval Office at 2:30 P.M. (this afternoon). It will be wonderful to see and meet him. He is a great Christian who has been through such a tough experience. I would like to thank President @RT_Erdogan for his help!” Trump said.
Brunson left Turkey on Friday and, after making a stop in Germany for a medical check-up, is expected to land at around 12:00 pm on Saturday at Andrews Air Force Base, in the outskirts of Washington, DC, White House spokesman Judd Deere said.
Trump insisted on Saturday that no deal was made with Turkish authorities to secure Brunson’s release, after several media outlets reported that Washington had agreed to lift the sanctions against Ankara that it imposed in August in connection with the pastor’s case.
“There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
A court in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, convicted Brunson on Friday of aiding terrorism and sentenced him to three years, but ordered him freed based on the time he had already spent in custody, allowing him to leave the country.
Brunson’s case raised tensions between Ankara and Washington, especially since July, when the Trump administration made his release a central concern.
In August, the White House imposed sanctions against Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül and against Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu for their role in Brunson’s arrest.
The rise in tensions even contributed to the depreciation of the Turkish Lira in August.
Trump also doubled the tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum, to which Ankara responded by increasing tariffs by 10 percent to 140 percent on several US products.