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October 14, 2018

Freed US pastor back home from Turkey, due at White House


October 14, 2018

WASHINGTON: An American pastor held for two years in Turkey on terror-related charges arrived home in the United States on Saturday, where he was to meet with US President Donald Trump, who signalled an easing in the diplomatic crisis sparked by the case.

Andrew Brunson, who has become a cause celebre for Trump´s conservative Christian base -- was due at the White House to see Trump shortly after his arrival at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington.

On Friday, a Turkish court in Aliaga convicted Brunson on charges of espionage and aiding terror groups. It sentenced him to three years, one month and 15 days in jail -- but released him based on time served and good behaviour.

Brunson maintained his innocence throughout the process, and Trump administration officials have said the charges were politically motivated. Trump thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his help on the case, which caused not only a serious diplomatic row between the NATO allies but led to a crash in the lira, exposing Turkey´s economic fragility.

"Pastor Andrew Brunson, released by Turkey, will be with me in the Oval Office at 2:30 PM (this afternoon)," Trump tweeted.

"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!"

Erdogan however said the court´s decision was "taken independently." Both Trump and Erdogan have denied reports that the two sides reached a secret deal for the 50-year-old Brunson to be released in exchange for the US easing "economic pressure" on Ankara. "There was no deal made with Turkey... I don´t make deals for hostages," Trump said on Twitter.

"There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!"

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