Turkey frees detained U.S. pastor in move likely to please Trump

A Turkish court set free U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson after holding him in prison for almost two years, removing a key source of tension between Turkey and the United States.

The court in Izmir convicted Brunson, 50, an evangelical pastor from North Carolina, and sentenced him to three years, 1 month and 15 days in jail, but lifted all judicial controls and released him after accounting for penalty reductions and time served.

Brunson had been accused of collaborating with terrorist groups and participating in a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. His prolonged imprisonment led the U.S. to impose sanctions on two Turkish ministers and threaten further penalties were he not released.

The lira reversed a gain to a loss after the decision, trading 0.5 per cent lower at 5.9511 per dollar as of 4:40 p.m. in Istanbul.

Brunson had lived in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir for more than 20 years before being arrested on espionage charges in 2016 as part of a crackdown following the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He was transferred to house arrest in July because of poor health, but U.S. officials had expected him to be freed at that time.

Brunson’s continued detention — and Erdogan’s refusal to release him despite intense pressure from the White House — was a significant factor in a precipitous decline in U.S.-Turkey relations in recent months. Furious over Turkey’s refusal to let him go, President Donald Trump in August doubled metal tariffs on Turkey and slapped sanctions on two senior Turkish officials involved in Brunson’s detention.

A convoy with a car with U.S .Pastor Andrew Brunson leaves the courthouse after his release following his trial in Izmir, Turkey, Friday, Oct. 12, 2018.

“I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Aug. 10. “Aluminum will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”

Turkish officials had sought meetings with the U.S. to negotiate a resolution to the Brunson case and other issues, but in August National Security Adviser John Bolton declared no such talks would proceed until Brunson was let go. In the meantime Turkey’s lira continued its fall, losing about 25 percent of its value in August alone.

Officials have hoped Brunson’s release could serve as a catalyst for improving ties between Turkey and the U.S. Turkey has played a role in the fight against Islamic State in neighboring Syria and has the second-biggest military in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. At the same time, Erdogan has made American leaders increasingly nervous because of his drift toward authoritarianism and pursuit of better ties with Russia.

The tensions over Brunson’s arrest had become a source of frustration and personal embarrassment for Trump, who believed Erdogan backed out of a deal in July to release him. Trump and Erdogan were seen at a July NATO summit in Brussels giving each other a fist …read more

Source:: Nationalpost – News


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