New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
U.S. President Donald Trump reacted strongly to the new postponement, until October, in the trial of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who remains jailed in Turkey.
“A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison”, President Trump wrote Wednesday night in his personal Twitter, notifying the message to President Erdogan.
“He has been held hostage far too long. @RT_Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband & father. He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him!”
Just hours earlier, at the State Department’s regular briefing, correspondents were asking questions, whether the United States has softened its stance towards Turkey, while Brunson’s lawyers were revealing intense diplomatic movement to succeed the pastor’s release,.
Replying to a question on Wednesday, following the postponement of the trial of Pastor Andrew Brunson, in conjunction with President Trump’s compliment to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during the NATO Summit, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said:
“I can tell you we have obviously been very closely engaged in Pastor Brunson’s case and with the Turkish Government on that case in particular. We’ve not seen any credible evidence against Pastor Brunson that he’s guilty of the crimes that the Turkish Government accuses him of.”
Nauert said that the case against Pastor Brunson is built on anonymous sources, unsubstantiated accusations, and a lot of speculation and that concerns U.S. government.
“We believe that he is innocent. We continue to call on the Turkish Government to quickly resolve his case in a timely and transparent and fair manner. I can tell you that our charge, Phil Kosnett, was – as well as other U.S. embassy officials – were present at the proceedings on the 18th for Pastor Brunson.”
When the journalist noted that the spokesperson didn’t include in her statement the usual call for the Pastor’s release by the Turkish authorities, Nauer explained “We would certainly like that to happen.”
When the journalist’s insisted that the United States gives “kid gloves treatment to the Turks right now” and that at the NATO summit just last week the President of the United States “fist bumped President Erdogan and said keep up the good work”, the Spokesperson avoided to comment, adding “We have followed this case extremely closely.”
The latest rumblings about the Brunson case indicate intense behind the scenes diplomatic movement for the release of the Pastor. The U.S. Congress has increased its pressure on Turkey and various pieces of legislation have been introduced in both chambers connecting Brunson’s release along with the cancellation of the S-400 deal to the transfer of the F-35’s.
Brunson’s lawyer Jay Sekulow – who is also President Trump’s personal attorney – released a podcast on Wednesday with his son Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, on which he talked about intense diplomatic activity that is taking place in order to secure the release of the American pastor. According to Jay Sekolow, multiple signals have been received by both the U.S. and the Turkish government regarding some imminent action.
“Since this morning we are in contact with the offices of President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State. The full resources of the United States are engaged right now”, said Jordan Sekulow, predicting developments in the next 24-48 hours.
“If we get a deportation it’s a victory”, Jordan Sekulow added.
Turkish press reported a telephone call between Presidents Erdogan and Trump on Monday and another between Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and Secretary of State Pompeo on Wednesday. There were no readouts for either conversation from the Trump Administration.
Sources in Washington were insisting that negotiations are taking place for a deal to allow the release of Pastor Brunson. The US offers in exchange the convicted Turkish banker Hakan Attila, but to this point all indications are that Ankara is holding out for an exchange of Brunson with Fethullah Gülen.
The U.S. and Turkey have agreed to form a working group to resolve all these legal issues, and at the joint statement issued following the meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, on June 4th, it was announced that “an initial session of the Working Group on Judicial and Other Issues took place immediately after the meeting of the Minister and the Secretary.”
Legal sources say it is impossible for the U.S. government to decide to extradite Gulen to Turkey, since it’s up to the U.S. Courts to make such a decision. Given this is not an option, Turkey may try to get “more lenient treatment” on the S-400 and F-35 issues.
Last week the Trump Administration opposed the restrictions proposed by U.S. Senate against Turkey, in a letter from Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of the Management and the Budget, to Senator Richard Shelby, the Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations.
“Turkey is an important NATO ally, and has been an international participant with the F-35 program since 2002. The Administration shares the Congress’s concerns over recent Turkish actions but opposes language that preemptively restricts its ability to work with Turkey to address those concerns,” the letter stated.
President Trump’s strong reaction on the Twitter may be an indication that U.S. proposal for a deal on Brunson’s release has not been accepted by the Turkish government.