Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who was freed Friday after being detained in a Turkish prison for nearly two years, has arrived in the United States and is headed to the White House for a meeting with President Trump. Brunson landed shortly after noon Saturday at Joint Base Andrews, outside Washington.
Brunson’s release had been a top priority for evangelical Christians, and Trump is celebrating the pastor’s return as a diplomatic coup for his administration. The president plans to host Brunson, 50, in the Oval Office at 2:30 p.m., before he jets to Kentucky for an evening campaign rally.
Trump tweeted on Saturday morning, “It will be wonderful to see and meet him. He is a great Christian who has been through such a tough experience. I would like to thank President @RT_Erdogan for his help!”
Brunson had been detained on espionage and terrorism-related charges. The pastor, a longtime resident of Turkey, was arrested along with thousands of other people after an unsuccessful 2016 coup attempt.
He was accused of aiding the movement led by the alleged mastermind of the coup, Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania and is a political foe of Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Brunson was also indicted on charges of having contact with Kurdish separatists who have been designated as terrorists by Turkey and the United States. Brunson and the Trump administration have said the charges were bogus.
Brunson was convicted Friday by a Turkish court, but his sentence was reduced to time served, clearing the way for his release.
U.S. officials and others close to the case had signaled that Brunson might be released imminently after negotiations that included the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Turkey. The agreement grew out of talks at last month’s U.N. General Assembly meeting, attended by Trump and Erdogan.
Trump on Saturday insisted that he made no concessions to Erdogan to secure the release of Brunson, who had been convicted in Turkish court of having links to terrorism.
“There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson,” Trump tweeted. “I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!”
The United States and Turkey have extensive military and security ties but have had a fraught relationship marked by distrust in recent years. The diplomatic community hopes that a resolution of the Brunson case will mark a turning point in relations between the two governments.
Brunson was taken to a U.S. military hospital in Germany on Friday night, where he was examined by medics.
When Brunson landed overnight in Germany, Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, presented him an American flag. The pastor held it up to his face and kissed it.
At a campaign rally Friday night in Lebanon, Ohio, Trump hailed the release of Brunson as a triumph, announcing to the roaring crowd that the pastor was “free from jail” and would be coming to Washington.
“We’ll say hello to him,” Trump said.