As we go to press, Turkish authorities are deciding the fate of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who has been imprisoned in Turkey for two years on charges that he aided terrorist groups and supported a coup in 2016.
The White House has long demanded his release, and to force Ankara’s hand, President Trump this summer slapped sanctions on an already reeling Turkish economy, sending the lira into a tailspin. The fate of Mr. Brunson is a big issue for US evangelical voters, a critical constituency for President Trump in the upcoming midterm elections and in 2020.
Yesterday afternoon, reports emerged that the US had reached a deal under which the US would ease sanctions in exchange for Mr. Brunson’s release. Will that happen?We’ve been close to a breakthrough before. Earlier this summer, Turkey’s headstrong President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly promised President Trump in person at the NATO summit in Brussels to release Brunson, only to renege once he got back to Ankara.
But Ankara may be more favorably disposed this time around for two reasons. First, the economic pressure on Turkey is causing real problems for Erdogan, and releasing Brunson in exchange for sanctions relief would ease outside investors’ concerns – the lira rebounded substantially on news of a deal.
And second, Turkey is keen to move the US into its corner ahead of a potentially nasty spat with Saudi Arabia, Washington’s close ally, which Ankara has accused of killing dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.