The United States and Turkey have reached a secret deal to release American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson in the coming days, but there is uncertainty around whether Ankara will live up to the bargain, media outlets reported on Thursday.
According to unnamed sources from the US administration familiar with the deal, Brunson will be released after Ankara drops certain charges against him at his next court hearing, currently scheduled for Friday, NBC News reported.
In exchange, the US reportedly agreed to ease economic pressure on Turkey, the report reads; however, the exact details of the deal remain unclear, NBC reported Thursday.
The US State Department commented on the report, saying it is unaware of any such deal.
“I am not aware of any such deal as reported by NBC News,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.
US officials from the US Embassy in Turkey have been assisting Brunson in his case, Nauert said. The State Department will be watching Brunson’s hearing on Friday closely, she added.
However, on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on the situation, saying that releasing Brunson would be a “humanitarian thing for Turkey to do.”
“I am very hopeful that before too long Pastor Brunson will, he and his wife will, be able to return to the United States,” Pompeo added, according to NBC.
The Turkish embassy in Washington, DC, has not responded to a request for comment.
There are still doubts that Ankara will deliver on this deal, as Turkey came close to releasing the pastor several months ago, but did not, the anonymous officials told NBC.
“We continue to believe Pastor Brunson is innocent, and the hearing on Friday is another opportunity for the Turkish judicial system to free an American citizen,” a third senior administration official said.
The Turkish government accuses the pastor, who reportedly ran the Resurrection Church in Turkey for two decades, of helping terrorist groups during the 2016 coup attempt, a charge Brunson denies. The US government insists he has been wrongly accused and has pushed for his release. In July, Ankara released Brunson from prison and moved him to house arrest. If convicted on his charges, Brunson might face up to 35 years in prison.
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