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Trump to meet with American pastor freed by Turkey

AP  |  Washington 

said he looked forward to Saturday's Oval Office meeting with Andrew Brunson, the American pastor whose release after nearly two years of detention in was a diplomatic triumph for Trump.

"It will be wonderful to see and meet him. He is a great Christian who has been through such a tough experience," Trump said in a tweet confirming the meeting for 2:30 pm local time.

The also asserted anew that he had made "no deal" with to win Brunson's long-sought freedom. "I don't make deals for hostages," he said.

was due at the following his brief stop at a US military hospital in for a health assessment.

Trump also thanked Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had resisted the demands of Trump and other high-level US officials for Brunson's release. Erdogan had insisted that his country's courts are independent, though he previously had suggested a possible swap for

Trump said the US greatly appreciated Brunson's release and said the move "will lead to good, perhaps great, relations" between the US and fellow NATO ally

Relations between the two countries had become severely strained over Brunson's detention and a host of other issues.

Brunson's homecoming amounts to a diplomatic high note for Trump, who is counting on the support of evangelical Christians for Republican candidates in the November 6 election.

Thousands of Trump's supporters cheered Friday night at a rally in when Trump informed them that was once again a free man.

"I'm really proud to report that earlier today we secured the release of pastor from Turkey," Trump said.

Brunson, a native, was due to arrive at Joint Base Andrews near about noon. Trump reminded the audience of other detained Americans who regained their freedom under his leadership.

They include three Americans released this year by before Trump's historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and an Egyptian-American freed by in 2017.

"We bring a lot of people back and that's good," Trump said. A on Friday convicted Brunson of having links to terrorism and sentenced him to just over three years in prison, but released the 50-year-old evangelical pastor because he had already spent nearly two years in detention. An earlier charge of espionage was dropped.

Hours later, Brunson was flown out of Turkey, his home for more than two decades. He was taken to a US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for a medical checkup.

"I love Jesus. I love Turkey," an emotional Brunson, who had maintained his innocence, told the court at Friday's hearing. He tearfully hugged his wife,

Brunson's release could benefit Turkey by allowing the government to focus on an escalating diplomatic crisis over Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi contributor to Post who has been missing for more than a week and is feared dead after entering the

Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi, a of the Saudi government, was killed in the consulate though Saudi officials deny it.

Turkey may also hope the US will now lift tariffs on Turkish and aluminum imports, a move that would inject confidence into an economy rattled by high inflation and foreign currency debt.

But Brunson's release doesn't resolve disagreements over US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, as well as a plan by Turkey to buy Russian missiles. Turkey is also frustrated by the refusal of the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Muslim accused by Turkey of engineering a 2016 coup attempt.

Brunson was accused of committing crimes on behalf of Gulen and Kurdish militants who have been fighting the Turkish state for decades. He faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges against him.

The pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, led a small congregation in the He was imprisoned for nearly two years after being detained in October 2016. Brunson was formally arrested that December and placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, October 13 2018. 20:35 IST