Trump threatens Turkey sanctions over pastor Andrew Brunson

An American pastor whose imprisonment for more than 600 days has tested relations between the USA and Turkey has been released from jail and placed under house arrest, in an apparent concession to repeated demands by American policymakers who called the man's detention a disgrace and threatened sanctions against Ankara.

USA and Turkish officials had been working on a deal that would lead to Brunson's release, and Washington had expected him to be freed at his trial last week, a source in the United States familiar with developments told Reuters on Wednesday.

"This is a welcome first step, but it is not good enough", Pence said during remarks at the close of a three-day conference on religious freedom at the State Department.

The US president said Andrew Brunson, 50, was "suffering greatly" after spending 18 months in a Turkish jail, with health problems forcing him to be moved to house arrest earlier this week.

The American will be under house arrest as his trial on terror and espionage charges continues.

Pence said Thursday that if Turkey does not take immediate action to free Andrew Craig Brunson, "the United States of America will impose severe economic sanctions on Turkey".

US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said he believes there is an "excellent prospect" that Mr Brunson will come home.

"A total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison".

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Now, President Trump is further increasing pressure on Turkey to release the Christian minister, who has been accused of espionage without any evidence, warning in a tweet of sanctions.

Pompeo announced additional aid for a region of Iraq previously held by the Islamic State group. Pompeo said the USA would provide $17 million for de-mining efforts in Nineveh, an area of Iraq historically home to numerous country's religious minorities.

The threat marked a significant escalation in already tense relations between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies over a range of issues - from Syria to Turkey's purchasing of advanced Russian air defence systems - that have seen the governments grow further apart.

Ties between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Turkey and the United States have been strained by other issues.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Brunson's move out of prison in a tweet Wednesday, calling it "long overdue news", but demanded that the Turkish government "resolve his case immediately in a transparent and fair manner". One is led by the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says was behind a 2016 failed coup, while the other is the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Gülen denies any involvement in the coup. The case was adjourned until October 12. The crackdown has targeted journalists, activists and opposition figures. The United States has not granted Turkey's extradition requests.

At the end of a recent hearing, the court inside a prison complex in western Turkey rejected Brunson lawyer's request that he be freed pending the outcome of the trial. "I forgive those who lie and bear false witness against me".

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  • Darren Santiago