A U.S. pastor released from Turkish captivity has arrived in the United States, and he is headed to meet with President Donald Trump, who denies he made any deal for his release.
Pastor Andrew Brunson arrived shortly after noon at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Trump said in a Twitter post he plans to meet with Brunson in the Oval Office at 2:30 p.m.
“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!,” Trump tweeted.
Brunson was released from house arrest Friday, allowing him to return to the United States after two years being held captive in Turkey. He had been on house arrest since July due to health problems, and in Turkish custody since October 2016 when he was arrested on charges that he spied on the government and aided in a military coup attempt.
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White House sources said at the time that Trump had struck a deal with Turkey for his release, including easing sanctions with the country, but in a Twitter post Saturday Trump denied that was the case.
“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!”
Trump had been advocating for Brunson’s release for months with Evangelical Christians, a significant part of his base, calling for his release.
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“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being,” Trump tweeted in July. “He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”
The matter had escalated tensions between the countries in recent months with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying in August that Ankara would boycott U.S. electronic products in retaliation for new sanctions levied over Brunson.
U.S. officials said they believe the move releasing Brunson will help strengthen the strained U.S.-Turkey relationship, as Turkey is calling on the United States to help them confront Saudi Arabia. The call for U.S. help stems from Turkish officials belief that Saudi operatives killed Saudi journalist and contributor for The Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
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Khashoggi had been living in the United States fearing arrest for criticizing Saudi leadership prior to his disappearance.
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, said he had entered the consulate to obtain paperwork for their upcoming wedding. She said she waited for him outside the consulate on Oct. 2, but he never came back out.
Saudi Arabia officials said that he had left the building, but have not provided evidence.