US lawmakers have held a private meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to try and secure the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson has been held since October 2016 on trumped-up charges of espionage and terrorism, though they are widely thought to have no basis to them.
Sen. Lindsay Graham and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen had a face-to-face meeting with the Turkish leader in order to quiz him about the disturbing case. Pastor Brunson is “doing fine physically,” and “is not guilty” of anything, Graham said in a video posted on Twitter Saturday. “We are working very hard to get him home.”
Graham noted that his meeting with President Erdoğan was “good, respectful, and candid.”
“We have real differences, but far more in common,” he wrote on Twitter. “Turkey needs to be a strategic partner for the U.S. in a win-win fashion. We spoke candidly about Pastor Brunson and other friction points, including the purchase of Russian made S-400s and American made F-35s. However, when it comes to the U.S.-Turkey relationship, failure is not an option.”
Sheehan, a Democrat, also took to social media following the important meeting.
I’m in Turkey to help build a constructive dialogue with President Erdogan on the cases of Americans wrongfully arrested and other issues of mutual concern. President Erdogan was receptive to my and @LindseyGrahamSC’s concerns.
— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (@SenatorShaheen) June 30, 2018
The Turkish government has, almost inconceivably, tried to link Brunson to the Islamic Gulen movement, which it further accuses of being involved in a July 2016 coup attempt to take out the Erdoğan administration. Brunson is also accused of working alongside the Kurdistan Workers Party.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 30, 2018
“I want the whole truth to be revealed. I reject all the accusations in the indictment. I haven’t been involved in any illegal activity,” Brunson said during an April court appearance. “I haven’t done anything against Turkey. On the contrary, I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years.”
President Trump called Brunson “a fine gentleman and Christian leader” earlier in the year, and pressed for his release. “They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is,” Trump wrote added. “Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”
The President is expected to bring up the plight of Pastor Brunson in an upcoming meeting with Erdogan at a NATO summit in Brussels.
“The United States cares deeply about our relationship with Turkey,” said United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback in April. “That relationship is going to have difficulty moving forward as long as Andrew Brunson is incarcerated.”
“The administration is deeply concerned about this case,” he added. “We completely believe factually he is innocent. Andrew Brunson is innocent. We are hopeful that the judicial system will find that, that he will be released, released soon.”
Brunson’s next hearing is scheduled for July 18.