Turkey to free detained US pastor?

Report says US and Turkey have reached secret deal to secure release of Andrew Brunson. State Department: We're not aware of a deal.

Tags: US-Turkey
Elad Benari ,

Trump and Erdogan
Trump and Erdogan

The White House expects the Turkish government to release detained American pastor Andrew Brunson in the coming days after reaching a secret deal, NBC News reported Thursday, citing two senior administration officials and another person briefed on the situation.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, however, said Washington is not aware of any deal for Turkey to release Brunson.

According to NBC News, Brunson is expected to be released after his next court hearing, which is scheduled for Friday. The deal was advanced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton during meetings with Turkish officials last month at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City.

The detention of the pastor has been an ongoing source of tension between the US and Turkey.

US President Donald Trump recently imposed sanctions on several Turkish officials and a 20 percent duty on aluminum and a 50 percent duty on steel in response to the continued imprisonment of Brunson.

In response, Turkey imposed tariffs on certain imports from the United States.

Trump recently told Reuters in an interview that he would not make any concessions to Turkey to gain Brunson’s freedom, adding he was not concerned that retaliatory tariffs he imposed will have a ripple effect and hurt the European economy.

In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Washington of making “unlawful requests” regarding the pastor.

Turkey accuses Brunson of abetting terrorist groups, which Brunson has denied. In September of last year, Erdogan unsuccessfully demanded that the United States hand over the Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen in exchange for Brunson. Turkey has accused Gulen, who resides in exile in Pennsylvania, of assisting in a failed 2016 coup attempt.

Erdogan told reporters this week, when asked about Brunson, that he would "obey whatever the decision the judiciary gives."

NBC reported that while the details of the agreement weren't immediately clear, it does include a US commitment to scale back economic pressure on Turkey.