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US pastor freed from Turkey prays with Trump in Oval Office

President Trump prays with American pastor Andrew Brunson in the Oval Office of the White House on Oct. 13, 2018, in Washington. Brunson returned to the U.S. around midday after he was freed Friday, from nearly two years of detention in Turkey. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Freed American pastor Andrew Brunson fell to one knee in the Oval Office and placed his hand on President Trump’s shoulder in prayer on Saturday (Oct. 13), asking God to provide the president “supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him.”

Trump welcomed Brunson to the White House to celebrate his release from nearly two years of confinement in Turkey, which had sparked a diplomatic row with a key ally and outcry from U.S. evangelical groups.

Brunson returned to the U.S. aboard a military jet shortly before meeting the president. He was detained in October 2016, formally arrested that December and placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.

“From a Turkish prison to the White House in 24 hours, that’s not bad,” Trump said.

Brunson’s homecoming amounts to a diplomatic — and possibly political — win for Trump and his evangelical base. Coming on the heels of the confirmation of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court, Brunson’s return is likely to leave evangelical Christians feeling good about the president and motivated get to the polls in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Brunson appeared to be in good health and good spirits. When he asked Trump if he could pray for him, the president replied, “Well, I need it probably more than anyone ese in this room, so that would be very nice, thank you.”

Brunson left his chair beside Trump, kneeled and placed a hand on the president’s shoulder. As Trump bowed his head, Brunson asked God to “give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him. I ask that you give him wisdom in how to lead this country into righteousness.”

He continued: “I ask that you give him perseverance, and endurance and courage to stand for truth. I ask that you to protect him from slander from enemies, from those who would undermine. I ask that you make him a great blessing to this country. Fill him with your wisdom and strength and perseverance. And we bless him. May he be a great blessing to our country. In Jesus’ name, we bless you. Amen.”

Brunson, originally from Black Mountain, N.C., had lived in Turkey with his family for more than two decades and led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and to aid a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of engineering the failed coup. Brunson faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges against him.

Administration officials cast Brunson’s release as vindication of Trump’s hard-nosed negotiating stance, saying that Turkey tried to set terms for Brunson’s release but that Trump was insistent on a release without conditions. Trump maintained there was no deal for Brunson’s freedom, but the president dangled the prospect of better relations between the U.S. and its NATO ally.

“We do not pay ransom in this country,” Trump said.

Where previous administrations kept negotiations over U.S. prisoners held abroad close to the vest, Trump has elevated them to causes célèbres, striking a tough line with allies and foes alike.

Trump thanked Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had resisted the demands of Trump and other high-level U.S. officials for Brunson’s release. Erdogan had insisted that his country’s courts are independent, though he previously had suggested a possible swap for Brunson.

The U.S. had repeatedly called for Brunson’s release and, this year, sanctioned two Turkish officials and doubled tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, citing in part Brunson’s plight.

Trump said the U.S. greatly appreciated Brunson’s release and said the move “will lead to good, perhaps great, relations” between the U.S. and fellow NATO ally Turkey. Trump said the White House would “take a look” at the sanctions.

He asked Brunson and his family which candidate they voted for in 2016, saying he was confident they had gone for him. “I would like to say I sent in an absentee ballot from prison,” Brunson quipped.

Evangelical voters overwhelmingly voted for the president despite discomfort with his personal shortcomings, in large part because he pledged to champion their causes, from defending persecuted Christians overseas to appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court. In the space of seven days, less than a month from the midterm elections, Trump delivered on both fronts.

Prominent evangelical leaders such as Tony Perkins have championed Brunson’s case, as has Vice President Mike Pence. First word of Brunson’s arrival back on American soil Saturday came from Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Perkins tweeted just after noon that he had landed at a military base outside Washington with Brunson and his wife, Norine.

Erdogan said on Twitter that he hoped the two countries will continue to cooperate “as it befits two allies.” Erdogan also called for joint efforts against terrorism, and he listed the Islamic State group, Kurdish militants and the network of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016.

Relations between the countries have become severely strained over Brunson’s detention and a host of other issues.

A Turkish court on Friday convicted Brunson of having links to terrorism and sentenced him to just over three years in prison, but released the 50-year-old evangelical pastor because he had already spent nearly two years in detention. An earlier charge of espionage was dropped.

Hours later, Brunson was flown out of Turkey, his home for more than two decades. He was taken to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for a medical checkup.

“I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” an emotional Brunson, who had maintained his innocence, told the court at Friday’s hearing.

Brunson’s release could benefit Turkey by allowing the government to focus on an escalating diplomatic crisis over Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi contributor to The Washington Post who has been missing for more than a week and is feared dead after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, was killed in the consulate; Saudi officials deny it.

Trump maintained the two cases were not linked, saying Brunson’s release amid the Khashoggi investigation was “strict coincidence.”

Turkey may also hope the U.S. will now lift the tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports, a move that would inject confidence into an economy rattled by high inflation and foreign currency debt.

But Brunson’s release doesn’t resolve disagreements over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, as well as a plan by Turkey to buy Russian surface-to-air missiles. Turkey is also frustrated by the refusal of the U.S. to extradite Gulen.

(Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.)

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  • BOTTOMLINE LOST IN 27 PARAGRAPHS: “Turkish court on Friday convicted Brunson of having links to terrorism and sentenced him to just over three years in prison”!

    “Convicted” + “Sentenced” = G.U.I.L.T.Y.

    Like his Romans 13:4 memory-verse-magnet-on-the-fridge says:

    “‘[You] love Jesus, [you] love Turkey’, whatever … [but] ‘if you [U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson] do what is evil, be afraid; for [the Republic of Turkey] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.'”

  • Trump praying? Absolutely hilarious. But, you can count on the Trumpvangelicals to fall for it.

    Meanwhile, other Americans remain imprisoned in Turkey with similar spurious charges. Trump has shown little concern for them.

    Serkan Golge is one. He’s a naturalized American citizen, a scientist who has done work for NASA, and a Muslim. He was visiting family at the time of the failed coup. Yet, Trump can’t be bothered to mention him, or his wife and children, who Erdogan is prohibiting from leaving Turkey.

  • Was he praying that Trump could learn the meaning of adultery? In fact, Trump has succeeded in breaking ALL 10 Commandments, practically on a daily basis, plus a few others we didn’t even know about.

  • The last time someone was on their knees in the Oval Office there was “ cigar-play” and a little residue on a blue dress.
    I’ll take this any day.

  • What “escalating diplomatic crisis over Jamal Khashoggi” can that possibly be? Does it have to do with inconvenient truths that the following may expose about the guy?

    (1) “We [the Muslim Brothers] were hoping to establish an Islamic state anywhere. We believed that the first one would lead to another, and that would have a domino effect which could reverse the history of mankind.”
    – Jamal Khashoggi, quoted in Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Vintage, 2007.

    (2) “Jamal [Khashoggi] had met Osama bin Laden several times. … Both came from the same generation and from two of the richest families in the kingdom – Bin Laden’s father was the country’s largest contractor, and Khashoggi’s uncle Adnan was an influential arms dealer. In addition, Khashoggi’s grandfather was personal physician to the Saudi King Abd al-Aziz. But Khashoggi himself also had sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood, where he saw a more modern, more democratic form of Islamism. … Khashoggi knew a lot. He was not just the media officer of intelligence chief Prince Turki, as it is sometimes called now. He was one of his main advisers and was said to have worked for the secret service for a while. Khashoggi was intensely familiar with the sensitive issues of the kingdom. And he was a member of the super-elite. He might have known too much. … There are some topics that could be considered. Corruption or old knowledge about links to extremism. Above all, however, the internal conflicts or misconduct of the royal family. If the secret service protects the security of the country, it must also know what is happening in the ruling family. … Turki knows almost all internals of the family. And Khashoggi may well have known many.”
    – Asiem El Difraoui, interviewed in Die Welt, “Khashoggi was not just about journalism”, October 14, 2018.

  • What obscure, confusing ,and profoundly irresolved issue, Christian pastor aiding an Islamic uprising? My gut metaphorically states that it is an Islamic-political claw grasp that was killing two birds with one stone: non-Islamic monotheistic faith and political hindrances.

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