WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the release of U.S. evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson by a Turkish court at his next hearing on Friday would be an important step and the right thing for Turkey to do.
“It is the right thing for them to do, it is the humanitarian thing for Turkey to do,” Pompeo told the annual Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) dinner in Washington. “I am very hopeful that before too long he and his wife will be able to return to the United States.”
Asked what his release would mean for U.S-Turkey relations, Pompeo said: “It is an important step.”
Brunson’s case has become the most divisive issue in a worsening diplomatic dispute between Ankara and Washington that has triggered U.S. sanctions and tariffs against Turkey.
Brunson is charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt in 2016. He has denied the accusation - as has Gulen - and Washington has demanded his immediate release.
Jailed or held under house arrest since October 2016, Brunson faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted. Last month the main prosecutor in his trial was replaced, a move his lawyer cautiously welcomed, saying it might be a sign of changing political will.
Despite pressure from the Trump administration, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has insisted that he has no sway over the judiciary and that the courts will decide on Brunson’s fate.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Peter Cooney