Trump administration cautiously optimistic pastor jailed in Turkey will be freed

Pastor Andrew Brunson is escorted by Turkish plainclothes police officers on July 25 in Izmir. More

Brunson's possible release is part of a breakthrough deal between US and Turkish officials to drop charges against him, NBC reported Thursday, citing two senior White House officials.

"We continue to believe Pastor Brunson is innocent, and the hearing on Friday is another opportunity for the Turkish judicial system to free an American citizen", a senior administration official said.

Turkey runs "a risk of the US Treasury announcing a substantial fine on Halkbank for violating US sanctions on Iran", its analysts said of the Turkish state-owned bank, adding that, "if Brunson is not released, the odds of Turkey receiving an Iran sanctions waiver from the US in early November for continued oil imports also go down significantly".

The pastor was imprisoned for almost two years before being placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.

Two senior administration officials said there was no deal with Turkey for Brunson.

Hopes are rising that American pastor Andrew Brunson may be freed, more than two years after he was first detained in Turkey. He is accused of working to convert Kurds to Christianity to destabilize Turkey.

The deal is said to include a commitment by the U.S.to ease economic pressure on Turkey.

The officials cited in the report, however, cautioned that Ankara may not follow through on the purported deal.

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Brunson, of Montreat, N.C., faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

Brunson has been held for nearly two years trumped-up on wide-ranging charges of conspiring to overthrow the Turkish government.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led a sustained diplomatic effort to have the pastor released, recently declared that Brunson "should have been released last month", and that he expects "he could be released this month", according to the Financial Times.

"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.

The Thursday comments come a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was hopeful that Turkey would release the pastor soon, ending a two-year detention that has shaken relations between the one-time allies.

The U.S. and Mr. Brunson deny he had anything to do with it. "On Oct. 12 there will be another hearing and we don't know what the court will decide and politicians will have no say on the verdict".

The U.S. has sanctioned Turkish government ministers in response to their treatment of Brunson. "The current economic challenges have been exaggerated more than necessary and Turkey will overcome these challenges with its own resources", the President declared. He has denied the accusation - as has Gulen - and Washington has demanded his immediate release.

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