American Pastor Held in Turkey Released After TWO YEARS

BREAKING White House Reaches Deal With Turkey to Free Jailed US Pastor Andrew Brunson  image Getty Center for Law and Justice

Andrew Brunson flew out from the western city of Izmir, reports said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had resisted US demands for Brunson's release, insisting that the courts are independent. The news agency says Brunson was also charged with spying for Kurdish militants.

Brunson, 50, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, has always rejected the charges and strongly maintained his innocence.

He was jailed in October 2016 amid accusations of having links to groups Turkey blames for a bloody coup attempt three months earlier. The evangelical pastor had been accused of terror-related charges and espionage, facing up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

In July, Turkey moved Brunson from prison to house arrest because of health issues.

Shortly afterward, the USA also imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey, citing national security.

Mr Brunson and United States officials insisted he is innocent of all charges.

"We remain hopeful that with the court proceeding tomorrow that Turkey will see its way clear and free this good man who is guilty of nothing and who has been incarcerated for several years in Turkey unjustly", Pence said.

"I am an innocent human being", Brunson told the court near the city of Izmir, where he led a church he established and tended to for almost a decade.

Altun said that Turkey monitored USA efforts to "mount pressure on Turkey's independent court system for some time", stating that Turkey "has been subject to various threats of sanctions". The court found Brunson guilty but suspended his sentence due to time served.

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Pastor Richard Harris, who serves at the church near Brunson's parents' home in North Carolina, had traveled to Turkey to be in court on Friday, Smith said.

Brunson hugged his wife and shed tears of joy as he left the courtroom flanked by an American delegation.

But Turkey insists the judiciary is independent and US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she was "not aware" of any such deal.

Tillerson visits Turkey in a bid to solve the problems between Washington and Ankara.

In August, the us slapped sanctions on an array of Turkish officials and on some goods, sending Turkish currency into freefall.

Kenyon says Brunson's release will probably go over well in Turkey, where the punitive sanctions appear likely to be eased or lifted. "He was totally supportive of the government". Turkey wanted to exchange Brunson for the Muslim cleric it accused of orchestrating the failed coup, Fetullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

The trial of an American pastor at the heart of a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States resumed Friday in Turkey, with observers waiting to see if authorities will release him amid threats of further US sanctions.

The U.S. continues to refuse Ankara's demands that the cleric Gulen be extradited. United States support for Kurdish forces fighting the Syrian civil war has also angered Mr Erdogan, who views them as an extension of the PKK.

Brunson's detention since 2016 caused not just one of the worst diplomatic rows of recent times between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies Turkey and the United States, but also a crash in the Turkish lira which exposed the country's economic fragility.

But in recent weeks, Mr Erdogan said he hoped to rebuild relations with Washington with the "spirit of strategic partnership".

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