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Andrew Brunson

US increases pressure on Turkey to release pastor

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is ramping up pressure on Turkey to release American Pastor Andrew Brunson.

Pompeo met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Singapore during a security conference in Southeast Asia on Friday.

“Brunson needs to come home, as do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government,” Pompeo told reporters ahead of the summit. “It’s pretty straightforward. Pastor Brunson is an innocent pastor and they need to let him return to the United States.”

“We are going to work to see if we can find a way forward; I am hopeful that we can,” he said.

Pompeo remarks came just two days after the Trump administration slapped sanctions on Turkey’s justice and interior ministers over Brunson’s case.

The sanctions will freeze the US assets of Turkey’s minister of justice, Abdulhamit Gul, and its minister of interior, Suleyman Soylu. The penalties also bar any US transactions with the two men.

“Everyone’s very disappointed. Nobody expected this kind of treatment (toward) two Cabinet ministers,” said Ilnur Cevik, a senior adviser to Turkish strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “President Trump is taking a very small case and jeopardizing Turkish-American relations and Turkish-American friendship.”

The move is designed to put the Turks on notice that the “clock had run out” and that it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned home, Pompeo said.

“I hope they’ll see this for what it is: a demonstration that we’re very serious,” he said.

The 50-year-old pastor was arrested in December 2016 and later charged with links to a failed plot to overthrow the Turkish government. Brunson denies the accusations.

Meanwhile, Pompeo noted that Brunson’s detainment was just one of many issues the US has with Turkey – for instance, Turkey’s ongoing detention of three Turkish employees of the US consulate in Istanbul.

“Pretty straightforward,” Pompeo said. “They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people.”