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The trial of an American pastor at the heart of a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States resumed Friday in Turkey, with observers waiting to see if authorities will release him amid threats of further U.S. sanctions.
On Thursday, NBC News learned that the White House expects North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson to be released by the Turkish government and returned to the U.S. in the coming days, two years after he was detained, according to two senior administration officials and another person briefed on the matter.
Under an agreement senior Trump administration officials recently reached with Turkey, Brunson is supposed to be released after certain charges against him are dropped during the scheduled hearing. The details of the deal are unclear, but those familiar with the discussions said it includes a commitment by the U.S. to ease economic pressure on Turkey.
Andrew Brunson, center, sits inside a car as he arrives for his trial in Izmir Friday.DHA / AP
Trump announced economic sanctions against Turkey in August after talks with Ankara failed to result in Brunson’s release. He also has publicly called for Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release the pastor.
Brunson, 50, who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, rejects the charges and strongly maintains his innocence. He is one of thousands caught up in a widespread government crackdown that followed a failed coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.
Prosecutors accuse Brunson of committing crimes on behalf of terror groups, linking him to outlawed Kurdish militants and a network led by a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who is accused of orchestrating the coup attempt. The U.S. maintains he is being held unjustly and has repeatedly called for his release.
Source: NBC News