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American Pastor Andrew Brunson Meets With Trump After Being Released From Turkey


And we're going to start the program today at the White House, where President Trump welcomed American pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson had been detained in Turkey for two years. For months, President Trump and others in his administration have been working on his release. Today, Pastor Brunson arrived in the U.S. and appeared in the Oval Office with President Trump.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I just want to congratulate you because you have galvanized this country.

MERAJI: And to talk more about how his release came about and what this means for the U.S.-Turkey relationship, we're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Hey, Tam.


MERAJI: Can you start by describing the scene in the Oval Office this afternoon?

KEITH: Yeah. So you had President Trump seated in the middle. Next to him was Pastor Brunson and his family. On the other side, there were senators and members of Congress and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, all who had worked to secure Brunson's release. At one point, Brunson said that he wanted to pray for President Trump. And he got down on his knees and laid his hands on the president and prayed that President Trump be given supernatural wisdom.

MERAJI: Well, what led up to this whole moment?

KEITH: Yeah. So Pastor Brunson was arrested more than two years ago as part of a round-up following a coup attempt on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He had been accused of espionage and aiding terrorists, which the pastor denies - to this day, of course. There was a lot of lobbying from President Trump, from all those members of Congress, the State Department. And especially Vice President Mike Pence worked a lot on this case. Brunson was moved in July to house arrest. Then - that wasn't enough. President Trump was not happy about it. And, in August, he imposed sanctions on Turkey to try to force the release of Brunson. That release came on Friday, and he arrived at Joint Base Andrews earlier today.

MERAJI: Does this mean anything for the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey?

KEITH: You know, these are two countries that are part of NATO. There has seemed to be a pretty good rapport between President Trump and President Erdogan, though Trump said on a number of occasions that this situation with Pastor Brunson was hurting their relationship. In the Oval Office today and also on Twitter, President Trump insisted that there was no deal involved here in securing Brunson's release. But he did say that it would likely improve the relationship between the two nations.

You know, this comes at a time when the U.S. and Turkey are trying to figure out how to navigate the disappearance and suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He wrote for The Washington Post and was last seen walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul almost two weeks ago.

MERAJI: And we're going to talk more about that later in the program. But first, what are the domestic political implications of the Brunson release?

KEITH: Pastor Brunson's case was really important to evangelical Christians, who took a keen interest in securing his release. And evangelicals are a key part of President Trump's base. And one other thing about this that stands out is that President Trump has really put a priority on freeing Americans who are held overseas. It's an aspect of international relations that he's put a real emphasis on and that he seems to be really proud of. He gets invested in the personal stories, and he's able to get tangible results. And one other thing about it that he likes is he often is able to say, well, I got these people out, and President Obama couldn't.

MERAJI: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thanks for joining us.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.