Pompeo Talks with Turkish FM, Urges Release of American Pastor
The fate of an American pastor on trial in Turkey was high on the agenda of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Brussels on Friday.
The pastor, Andrew Brunson, has been detained in Turkey for 18 months and is on trial for terrorism and espionage, with prosecutors demanding a 35-year prison sentence. The case has contributed to U.S.-Turkish tensions.
“Secretary Pompeo reiterated the concerns we have for U.S. citizens and consular staff detained in Turkey and especially Pastor Brunson,” a U.S. official told State Department reporters.
Pompeo met with Cavusoglu on the sidelines of the NATO ministerial meeting. The U.S. official said the secretary of state echoed U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in urging the Turks to do everything in their power to ensure Brunson’s release.
Turkish authorities indicted Brunson last month for allegedly helping to arrange a July 2016 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom says the indictment also charges Brunson, who has been a Christian pastor in Turkey for 23 years, of committing an act of terrorism by spreading the Christian faith in the predominately Muslim country.
Brunson could face a life sentence if convicted. U.S. lawmakers, human rights groups and others say the charges against Brunson are fraudulent.
In a tweet, the Turkish foreign minister wished Pompeo success in his new post and said the two discussed Syria, Iraq, the fight against terrorism, consular and other issues.
Acting U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Heather Nauert said Pompeo and Cavusoglu discussed the situation in Syria and agreed on the value of U.S.-Turkish partnership in the region and of maintaining close communication.
“Building upon prior discussions on Manbij, the two reaffirmed their support for the established bilateral process to find a common way forward,” Nauert said in a statement. “They also discussed the United States’ commitment to supporting Turkey’s national security concerns.”