Trump thanks Turkish president for release of pastor

By Servet Gunerigok

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday thanked his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

On Twitter, Trump said the freed pastor would be his guest at the Oval Office at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday.

"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!," Trump tweeted.

Erdogan has repeatedly stressed that Friday's release of Brunson was a ruling made by the independent Turkish judiciary.

Also rebuffing media claims that Ankara and Washington made a deal to release the pastor, Trump said: "There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson.”

He added: "There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!"

Brunson was arrested in December 2016 and charged in the Aegean province of Izmir with being a member of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind a defeated coup earlier that year.

After being transferred from jail to house arrest this July, Brunson on Friday was sentenced to just over three years in prison, but released due to time served and his good behavior in custody.

The charges against him included spying for both FETO and the PKK, a group recognized as terrorist by the U.S. and EU which is responsible for some 40,000 deaths in Turkey, including women and children.

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