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Turkey Suggests White House Effort to Free Pastor Is Tied to Midterm Elections

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu,

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu suggested today that the stepped-up effort from the Trump administration to free a North Carolina pastor is tied to midterm elections, telling reporters that there's "no change" right now in Brunson's case.

“At the Turkish Ambassador’s request, Ambassador John Bolton met with Ambassador Serdar Kilic of Turkey today in the White House," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday. "They discussed Turkey’s continued detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson and the state of the U.S.-Turkey relationship.”

Çavuşoğlu said today at a press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that the White House called for the meeting, not the other way around.

“There are those who want to resolve this Brunson issue while some others want to prolong it until the November elections in the U.S.,” Çavuşoğlu said, according to Hurriyet, claiming the White House was being confusing and miscommunicating on the matter.

“What our ambassador has told Bolton is clear: There are issues we have been discussing. We have drafted road maps and action plans with regard to these issues," he said. "We have updated them once again."

The administration has not made clear why it is only publicly focusing on Brunson's case, which it began highlighting this spring, and not other U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Turkey, including NASA scientist Serkan Gölge and professor Ismail Kul. Turkey also holds three U.S. Foreign Service nationals -- Hamza Uluçay, Metin Topuz, and Nazmi Mete Canturk -- diplomatic workers who have given decades of service to America.

Brunson’s lawyer, İsmail Cem Halavurt, today filed another appeal -- the first one was rejected by an Izmir court -- asking that Brunson be released from house arrest and that his travel ban be lifted.

Brunson, who was moved from prison to house arrest last month, faces 35 years in prison after the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan swept up the longtime Turkey resident, along with several other Americans, in his post-coup purges. Since July 15, 2016, the Turkish government has arrested 80,147 people on muddled charges of being tied to Fethullah Gülen, a Pennsylvania-based moderate political foe of Erdoğan. As the regime has repeatedly pressed the topic of seeking Gülen's extradition from the U.S., it's believed the Americans have been detained as potential swap leverage.

Brunson and his wife, Norine, raised their family in Turkey and ministered through the Protestant Izmir Resurrection Church in the Aegean coast city. In October 2016, after living in the country for 23 years, they found a note on their door telling them to report to the migration management office for what they thought would be a visit connected to their visa renewal. Instead, officials detained the couple. They did not shut down the church, which has continued operating under one of Brunson's ministry partners, or arrest other members.