Trump thanks Turkey for release of pastor Andrew Brunson, denies cutting a deal

VIDEO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump thanked Turkey on Saturday (Oct 13) for freeing American pastor Andrew Brunson after two years in custody and said it would help improve strained relations, but Trump denied cutting a deal for Brunson's release.

"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!" Trump wrote in a tweet on Saturday morning.

Brunson, who had been under house arrest since July, was flown out of Turkey on Friday, and Trump said he would meet him at the White House at 2.30pm ET on Saturday (2.30am on Sunday, Singapore time).

Relations between the two Nato allies have been strained by US support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkey's plans to buy a Russian missile defence system, and the US jailing of an executive at a Turkish state bank in an Iran sanctions-busting case.

The dispute over Brunson brought new tension to the relationship. Trump authorised a doubling of duties on aluminum and steel imported from Turkey in August, and Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on US cars, alcohol and tobacco imports.

Turkey is in a financial crisis and its lira currency has plunged against the dollar this year on concerns over President Tayyip Erdogan's grip on monetary policy and the diplomatic dispute between Ankara and Washington.

Trump specifically thanked Erdogan in his tweet on Saturday.

However, Erdogan told Mr Trump that the court’s decision to free the American pastor was taken “independently”.

“Mr President @realDonaldTrump, in line with what I have always said, the Turkish judicial decision was taken independently,” Mr Erdogan wrote on his official Twitter account.

“I hope that the United States and Turkey continue cooperation in a manner that befits two allies,” Erdogan added in the tweet.

He also urged a “joint fight” of the two countries against terror groups.

Brunson was accused of links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey's government for a coup attempt in 2016.

Brunson, who lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, denied the accusations and Washington had demanded his immediate release.