Washington, Oct 12 (IANS) US officials believe they were on the verge of securing the release of Andrew Brunson, the American pastor jailed by Turkey on accusations he helped plot a coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a media report said.
An informed source told CNN on Thursday that the US officials were counting on their Turkish counterparts to follow through on their end of the agreement, which appears to now be in place with Brunson due to appear before a Turkish court on Friday.
If the court lifts Brunson’s house arrest order on Friday and doesn’t impose a new travel ban, he will be free to leave the country otherwise he faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.
However, Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on Thursday, dialed back expectations that Brunson’s release is imminent.
“I’m not able to confirm anything for you other than to say that President’s made clear, our administration’s made very clear, that we will continue to stand strong until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free and back home in the US with his family and with his church,” he said.
Also on Thursday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said: “I am not aware of any such deal… We’re not aware of anything. There’s a hearing that takes place tomorrow. There’s a legal process to play out.”
Brunson has been held since 2016 and his imprisonment led to a rapid decline in relations between Turkey and the US after President Donald Trump took up his case, and the administration elevated religious freedom as a cause, CNN reported.
In August, Trump said that Turkey had “not acted as a friend” and “they made up phony charges that he’s a spy. He’s not a spy”.
Trump slapped Turkey, a NATO ally, with sanctions in August, targeting the country’s justice and interior ministers.
Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said at the time that the US was prepared to add more sanctions if Brunson wasn’t released.