Pastor Andrew Brunson was flown out of Turkey yesterday after a court freed him from two years of detention, in a step that could improve Turkey’s relationship with the US which has been strained by disputes over Syria, Iran and Ankara’s planned purchase of Russian military equipment.
He is expected the land at a military base in Washington within the hour after a quick stop-off in Germany for a medical check up.
But despite Mr Brunson finally being freed over an alleged 2016 government coup, President Trump said no agreement between himself and Mr Erdogan had been made to prompt the US leader to lift sanctions on Turkey.
He said: “There was no deal made at all. There was no deal. But we’re very happy to have him and have him in good shape.”
The diplomatic fight against the holyman had accelerated a recent sell-off in Turkey’s currency, worsening its financial crisis.
Dressed in a smart black suit at the court hearing that ended with his freedom, Mr Brunson said allegations made against him by the Turkish government were “inaccurate”.
He said: “I am an innocent man. I love Jesus. I love Turkey.”
He then wept as he judge granted him freedom.
US Ambassador Richard Grenell greeted Brunson and his wife during the stop in Germany, the envoy said on social network Twitter.
Mr Grenell wrote: “He’s almost home thanks to @realDonaldTrump.
“When I presented him with the US flag, he immediately kissed it.”
Relations between the two NATO allies have been under serious strain over 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 release of Mr Brunson could help ease tensions, but political analysts say many unresolved problems remain.
Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said: “This is a necessary but far from sufficient step to reverse what has been a deepening rift between the United States and Turkey, two NATO allies.”
Ankara has demanded that the US extradite Fethullah Gulen to Turkey, the cleric who was lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999 after a role in the attempted coup. which he denies.