Trump presses Turkey's Erdogan to release jailed US pastor

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Story highlights

  • White House: US President Trump addressed US pastor's detention during meeting with Turkish leader
  • Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants the extradition of a Islamic preacher from the US

(CNN)US President Donald Trump raised the issue of a US pastor imprisoned in Turkey three times during a meeting with the Turkish president Tuesday, according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

The White House confirmed Trump had raised the subject of Brunson during his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington, their first face-to-face meeting since Trump took office in January.
"President Trump raised the incarceration of Pastor Andrew Brunson and asked that the Turkish Government expeditiously return him to the United States," the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
The ACLJ celebrated the news in a statement on its website: "This is exactly what we asked the President to do and is a major sign of significant progress toward bringing Pastor Andrew home."
At a time of strained relations between the United States and Turkey, Erdogan was in Washington to meet Trump and discuss cooperation in fighting terrorism, as well as building economic and trade ties.
The Turkish leader said that he and Trump were "laying a foundation of a new era of relations between our two countries."
Brunson, a North Carolina native, was arrested in October in Izmir on Turkey's Aegean coast, where he was pastor at the Izmir Resurrection Church.
According to a petition from the ACLJ to the United Nations dated May 15, 2017, Brunson was told that he was being detained as a "national security risk." The document said Brunson's "detention appears to be related to his work as a Christian minister."
The ACLJ, a Christian-based advocacy group based in Washington, DC, is campaigning for Brunson's release. The group's Chief Counsel, Jay Sekulow, said in a post on the ACLJ website that he met with President Trump last week at the White House about the issue.
Sekulow wrote Tuesday that he'd received a call from Vice President Mike Pence to tell him that the issue Brunson's detention had been raised.
The arrest of Brunson, an Evangelical Presbyterian pastor, came after July's failed military coup in Turkey. The coup resulted in a crackdown against Erdogan's opposition, including Christian minorities.
CNN affiliate CNN Turk reported at the time that Brunson was arrested for membership in FETO, the organization led by cleric Fetullah Gulen.
The Turkish-US relationship has been strained by the US refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan blames for orchestrating the coup attempt against him.

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The pastor's wife, Norine Brunson, has also been campaigning on his behalf. A post on the ACLJ website says she received a letter from Vice President Pence one month ago, which stated he had taken a "deep, personal interest" in case.
Pence added that he had "personally discussed (Brunson's) detention with senior Turkish officials," the post said.
Norine Brunson addressed supporters in a Facebook post early Tuesday morning, thanking them for their support as Trump and Erdogan met.
"It is nearing 3 AM here and has been an emotionally and physically exhausting day," she wrote.
"I am grateful that you are praying and I have heard of some who are fasting! Do continue to pray for the meeting between the two presidents. Pray for peace for Andrew and for me."
In another Facebook post on March 30, Norine Brunson said that she'd had a 20-minute meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his visit to Ankara about the issue.

US nationals freed elsewhere

The Trump administration says it's been instrumental in securing the release of other US citizens in detention since taking over the White House in January.
President Trump worked "directly... behind the scenes" and discussed the case of Aya Hijazi, an Egyptian-American aid worker, with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to secure her release, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.
"Today, the President is proud to be welcoming her back to the White House and happy that she is back home on American soil," told a press briefing on April 21.
Hijazi spent nearly three years behind bars in Egypt on child abuse and human trafficking charges.
Also in April, Sen. Ted Cruz said President Donald Trump had provided "leadership" in securing the release of Sandy Phan-Gillis, a US businesswoman detained in China for more than two years.
Phan-Gillis had pleaded guilty to espionage charges, allegedly having spied on China for the US government during the 1990s. Cruz, her home state senator, has called the charges "baseless."