American pastor Andrew Brunson arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, DC, at just after noon Saturday.
Brunson will join President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Saturday, the President tweeted, adding there was “NO DEAL made with Turkey” for his release.
Brunson had been held in Turkey since 2016, accused of helping to plot a coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. US officials say Brunson was wrongfully detained.
The evangelical pastor’s case strained relations between the two NATO allies and raised the possibility of significant US sanctions and further threats.
“It will be wonderful to see and meet him,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “He is a great Christian who has been through such a tough experience. I would like to thank President @RT_Erdogan for his help!”
“There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson,” Trump said in a follow-up tweet, adding, “I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!”
The Turkish president said Saturday in a tweet that “the Turkish judiciary reached its decision independently” and that he hopes the US and Turkey “will continue their cooperation as the allies that they are, and jointly fight against terrorist groups.”
Brunson has lived in Turkey for more than 23 years with his wife and three children, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, an organization led by Trump attorney Jay Sekulow that has advocated for his release.
Brunson was formally indicted in March 2016 on charges of espionage and having links to terrorist organizations. The charges against Brunson include supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party as well as the Gulen movement, which Turkey accuses of orchestrated the coup attempt.
Brunson was released Friday after being detained in Turkey for two years. A Turkish court sentenced the pastor to three years and one month in prison but chose to release him based on his time already served as well as his manner during the proceedings, Brunson’s attorney said. Prosecutors were seeking a 10-year prison term.
“He’s, I think, in good shape,” Trump told reporters Friday. “We’re very honored to have him back with us. He suffered greatly. But we’re very appreciative to a lot of people, a lot of people.”
Trump tweeted about Brunson several times this year, and the White House repeatedly pushed for his release in conversation with Turkish officials.
In April, Trump asserted that Brunson was being “persecuted in Turkey for no reason” and said, “They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”
Months later, Trump tweeted that the United States would impose “large sanctions” on Turkey for its detainment of Brunson, “a great Christian family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”