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No progress reported in U.S.-Turkish talks on detained American minister

No progress reported in U.S.-Turkish talks on detained American minister
Andrew Brunson, center, is seen July 28 as he arrives at his house in Izmir, Turkey, where he will remain under house arrest. (Associated Press)

U.S. and visiting Turkish officials held a second day of talks at the State Department on Wednesday to discuss U.S. demands for the release of an American minister who has been detained by Turkey for nearly two years, but no progress was reported.

Washington long has demanded the release of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical Christian preacher who has lived in Turkey for nearly two decades. He was arrested with tens of thousands of Turks and others after an attempted military coup failed to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

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Brunson is being held on terrorism-related charges and has proclaimed his innocence, as has the U.S. government.

The case has inflamed tensions between Turkey and the United States, which are NATO allies. The Trump administration last week imposed economic sanctions on two senior Turkish officials it held responsible for Brunson’s detention and threatened other punitive steps.

The meetings in Washington were led by John Sullivan, deputy U.S. secretary of State, and Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, Sedat Önal.

They “discussed a range of bilateral matters, including Pastor Brunson,” Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said Wednesday. “The talks continue,” she added, without providing further detail.

Turkey hosts U.S. military bases that Washington has used for the wars in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo has said Washington also has demanded the release of other U.S. citizens detained in the post-coup crackdown, as well as Turkish employees of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

Brunson has received the most attention, however. His church belongs to the same national evangelical congregation as Vice President Mike Pence, who has frequently called for the North Carolina native’s release.

Erdogan has suggested trading Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish-born Muslim cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan blames for instigating the coup attempt.

Gulen has denied involvement, and the Justice Department has declined to extradite him, saying Turkey has not provided sufficient evidence that he committed a crime.

Turkey also is seeking the release of a Turkish banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was convicted in a U.S. federal court in May on sanctions-busting charges related to the purchase of Iranian oil.

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