US, Turkish Diplomats Discuss Detained American Pastor

The U.S. State Department said Saturday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu discussed American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is being detained in Turkey on terrorism and espionage charges.

Details of the conversation were not disclosed, but State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the two diplomats were “committed to continued discussions to resolve the matter and address other issues of common concern.”

Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, was indicted on charges of helping a network led by U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in addition to supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The detention of Brunson has strained relations between Turkey and the U.S., both NATO allies. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened sanctions as part of a pressure campaign to free the pastor.

Brunson had been in jail for 21 months before being put under house arrest Wednesday. His transfer came one week after a court inside a prison complex in the western Turkish town of Aliaga ruled to keep Brunson in detention while he is tried. The court dismissed Brunson’s attorney’s request for Brunson to be freed pending the outcome of the trial, which was adjourned until October 12.

Brunson, 50, who denies the charges, could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted. 

Pompeo wrote Wednesday on Twitter that Brunson’s transfer was “long overdue news” but added that the U.S. expected Ankara to do more.

Trump has repeatedly demanded Brunson’s release. The U.S. president has tweeted that Brunson’s detention is “a total disgrace” and added, “He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”

Brunson is among tens of thousands of people Erdogan detained on similar charges during the state of emergency he declared following the failed coup.

The state of emergency ended July 18, but the Turkish legislature passed a new “anti-terror” law Wednesday that gives authorities more power to detain suspects and restore public order.

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