U.S. President Donald Trump met at the White House Saturday with American pastor Andrew Brunson, who returned to the U.S. after being detained in Turkey for two years.
"It will be wonderful to see and meet him," Trump had written in a Saturday morning tweet. "He is a great Christian who has been through such a tough experience."
Trump thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the return of Brunson, who was freed Friday by a Turkish court. Trump noted the U.S. did not negotiate an agreement with Turkey for Brunson's release, saying, "I don’t make deals for hostages." Ankara has also strongly rejected any suggestion of a deal.
There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2018
Pastor Andrew Brunson, released by Turkey, will be with me in the Oval Office at 2:30 P.M. (this afternoon). 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2018
The release of Brunson marked the end of a bitter diplomatic dispute between Washington and Ankara. Brunson was facing 35 years in jail if he had been convicted on terrorism and espionage charges, allegations Washington called baseless.
Trump told reporters Friday that Brunson had "suffered greatly" but is now in "good shape." On Twitter Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration will continue to work to bring other "wrongfully imprisoned" Americans home.
The U.S. military flew Brunson to the Ramstein airbase in Germany Friday for a medical evaluation before continuing to the United States.
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell greeted Brunson at the airbase. The ambassador posted a photograph on Twitter of Brunson kissing an American flag. "When I presented him with the US flag, he immediately kissed it," Grenell tweeted.
I welcomed Pastor Brunson & his wife to Germany on their refueling stop. He’s almost home thanks to @realDonaldTrump. When I presented him with the US flag, he immediately kissed it. #agratefulnation pic.twitter.com/b82gA7PXVr— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) October 13, 2018
Freed for time served
The Turkish court found Brunson guilty Friday but sentenced him to only three years and one month in jail. The pastor had already served two years in pre-trial detention so he was freed for time served.
“This is the day all my family has been waiting for,” witnesses quoted Brunson as saying on hearing the court sentence.
During the fourth day of hearings Friday, three prosecution witnesses recanted earlier testimony. One said he didn't know who Brunson was, while others claimed the court had misunderstood their previous statements.
The pastor's case has become the focal point of an unprecedented crisis in Turkish-U.S. relations. Trump, partially in retaliation for Brunson's ongoing prosecution, slapped Turkey with trade tariffs in August. The action made the Turkish currency collapse.
VOA's Wayne Lee, Fern Robinson, Steve Herman contributed to this report.