American pastor thanks Trump for role in Turkish prison release

American pastor thanks Trump for role in Turkish prison release
Andrew Brunson was a cause celebre among America's Christian-right. Now he has been welcomed by the president.
2 min read
14 October, 2018
Brunson left Turkey for the US after two years in jail [Getty]

An American pastor at the centre of a crisis between Washington and Ankara visited Donald Trump on Saturday, following his release from a Turkish prison this week.

Andrew Brunson was imprisoned for two years in Turkey on terror-related charges, leading to a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

On Saturday, he met US President Donald Trump, who pressed Turkey hard to release the pastor, after he became a cause celebre for Trump's conservative Christian base.

He received a hero's welcome at the White House shortly after his arrival at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington after a court dramatically ruled on Friday that he was free to leave Turkey.

Brunson thanked Trump, saying "you really fought for us" and later kneeled to pray for the president.

Trump repeatedly thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his help on the case, which has led to the worst crisis between the two NATO allies in recent years.

Sanctions on Turkey over the case also contributed to the crash in the lira, and economic woes for Turkey.

"It's not an easy situation for Turkey either. They had a lot of difficult situations going on and I do want to thank President Erdogan for making this possible," Trump said.

A Turkish court in the western port city of Aliaga convicted Brunson on charges of espionage and aiding terror groups.

He was sentenced to one month and 15 days in jail until a court reduced his sentence on Friday and released him based on time served and good behaviour.

Following accusations that the state had directly intefered in the judiciary over the case, Erdogan said the court's decision was "taken independently".

Both Trump and Erdogan have denied reports of a secret deal to secure the 50-year-old Brunson's release.

"There was absolutely no deal made," Trump told reporters on Saturday. "We don't pay ransom" for hostages.

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

Erdogan responded: "I hope that the United States and Turkey continue cooperation in a manner that befits two allies."

The US and Turkey are at the centre of a new crisis with Saudi Arabia, after American resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing after visiting the Saudi embassy in Istanbul last week.

Turkish investigators believe he was murdered by Saudi agents on the consulate's grounds and Trump has vowed "consequences" if Saudi Arabia is found to be behind the journalist's killing.