After more than two years stuck in Turkey’s prisons and home confinement, Pastor Andrew Brunson might be on his way home. NBC News reports this afternoon that the White House thinks it has a deal with Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a dismissal of charges against Brunson in exchange for loosening economic pressure put on by Donald Trump.
If this sounds familiar, it’s only because you’re paying attention:
The White House expects North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson to be released by the Turkish government and returned to the U.S. in coming days, two years after he was detained, according to two senior administration officials and another person briefed on the matter.
Under an agreement senior Trump administration officials recently reached with Turkey, Brunson is supposed to be released after certain charges against him are dropped at his next court hearing, currently scheduled for Friday, the senior administration officials and a person briefed on the matter said.
The details of the deal are unclear, but those familiar with the discussions said it includes a commitment by the U.S. to ease economic pressure on Turkey.
Brunson’s due in court tomorrow to continue his defense against charges of abetting terrorism. The timing of a dismissal would work out well, but the White House has been burned before. Publicly, they’re taking a cautious note:
“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.
Two senior administration officials said the White House had not been notified of any change in Brunson’s October 12 court hearing as of Thursday morning.
Until now, Turkey has insisted that any deal for release would have to include the extradition of Erdogan critic Fethullah Gulen, currently living in Pennsylvania. If Erdogan dropped that demand, one has to wonder why; he desperately wants to make Gulen the face of all his opposition. There would be two main possibilities. One, the economic sanctions are forcing Erdogan’s hand, or tow, maybe he wants the US to take a more active role in forcing the Saudis to account for what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. Allahpundit has something coming up on the Khashoggi case; it will be interesting to see what if anything changes once Brunson’s safely back in the US.
That’s still more of an if than a when, though. Until Brunson clears Turkish air space on a US flight, we shouldn’t count on it being over.
Update: This doesn’t look promising:
JUST IN: State Department says it is not aware of any deal to secure the release of U.S. pastor held in Turkey https://t.co/xFk764q18F
— Reuters Politics (@ReutersPolitics) October 11, 2018
Don’t forget, though, that we don’t have an ambassador in Turkey yet. This might be being handled outside the State Department, although it’s not clear why it wouldn’t involve State.