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Trump Welcomes Home Pastor Andrew Brunson, but Denies Link to Saudi Case

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

He said he had not heard tapes that purportedly capture Mr. Khashoggi being tortured and murdered but acknowledged, as he has in recent days, that it seemed likely that he was dead. “At this point, it’s looking like he perhaps won’t be or isn’t around, and that’s very sad,” Mr. Trump said. “I think we would have known by now.”

Saudi Arabia once again denied on Saturday any involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. The interior minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, said in a statement that “what has been circulating in terms of supposed orders to kill Jamal are outright lies and baseless allegations against the kingdom’s government, which is committed to its principles, rules and traditions and is in compliance with international laws and conventions.”

Mr. Brunson’s case generated pressure on Mr. Trump from religious conservative leaders, and the president, Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress from both parties took it up. The president imposed sanctions on Turkey, and Mr. Trump said on Saturday that he had spoken about the case with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “at least once a day.”

An evangelical pastor who ran the small Resurrection Church in Izmir, Mr. Brunson, 50, and his wife, Norine, lived in Turkey for two dozen years. He was arrested in October 2016, accused of spying and aiding terrorists and sentenced to three years, one month and 15 days in prison. He was released into house arrest in July, and a Turkish judge on Friday reduced his sentence to time served, after which Mr. Brunson was quickly flown out of the country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey stressed on Saturday that the release was authorized by the courts, not the government. “Honorable President @realDonaldTrump, as I have always emphasized, the Turkish judiciary has given its decision independently,” he wrote in Turkish on Twitter. “I hope that Turkey and USA will continue the cooperation worthy of two allies.”

The reaction in Turkey to the release was otherwise muted. The government played down the event, a sign of its discomfort, since Mr. Brunson had long been vilified by the Turkish news media as a terrorist and a spy.

Yet the anti-American, nationalist posture that has been increasingly adopted by the Turkish government, and by Mr. Erdogan himself, since a failed coup in 2016 will not be easily reversed. “Never come back again!” the staunchly pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak screamed in a headline on Saturday after Mr. Brunson left the country.

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