President Donald Trump on Saturday predicted that Turkey’s release of American Rev. Andrew Brunson would improve the diplomatic relationship between its government and the United States, and thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his role in delivering the North Carolina pastor.
Trump also reiterated that the U.S. did not make any concessions to Turkey in exchange for Brunson’s return.
“There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. I don’t make deals for hostages,” the president wrote on Twitter.
“There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!” he tweeted.
In a separate morning post, Trump confirmed that he would be meeting with Brunson in the Oval Office Saturday afternoon.
“It will be wonderful to see and meet him. He is a great Christian who has been through such a tough experience,” Trump said of Brunson, adding: “I would like to thank President @RT_Erdogan for his help!”
Turkey imprisoned the evangelical faith leader and his wife, Norine, in October 2016, along with 20 other Americans, following a failed coup attempt against Erdoğan. Norine Brunson was released after 13 days, but Turkish officials held Andrew Brunson in prison on espionage charges until July, when they moved him to house arrest.
A Turkish court on Friday convicted Brunson of a “terror” charge during a hearing in Ankara, but released him from house arrest. He faced a sentence of up to 35 years.
Trump’s declarations that his administration did not negotiate for Brunson’s release contradict a report published Thursday by NBC News, which described a secret deal that included “ a commitment by the U.S. to ease economic pressure on Turkey.”
As punishment for Brunson’s continued detention, the Treasury Department in August leveled sanctions against Turkey’s minister of justice and minister of interior, blocking any property the officials held in the U.S. and prohibiting Americans from engaging in transactions with them, POLITICO previously reported.
Erdoğan, whose increasingly authoritarian rule has troubled human rights activists, at the time slammed those disciplinary measures as “disrespectful” and “not suitable for a strategic partner.”