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Newly freed pastor prays with Trump in Oval Office
President Donald Trump thanked Turkey on Saturday (October 13) for freeing U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson after two years in custody and said it would help improve strained relations, but he denied cutting a deal with Ankara. "We do not pay ransom in this country, at least any longer. We won't pay ransom -otherwise, you have big problems ...But, I still I want to thank President Erdogan," Trump said. Trump's mention of Erdogan drew a curt response from the Turkish leader, who has repeatedly said it was a court's decision to make, not his. Brunson, who had been under house arrest since July, was flown out of Turkey on Friday (October 12). He arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington on Saturday and met withTrump at the White House in the afternoon. Relations between the two NATO allies have been strained by U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Turkey's plans to buy a Russian missile defense system, and the U.S. jailing of an executive at a Turkish state bank in an Iran sanctions-busting case. Brunson brought new tension to the relationship. Trump authorized a doubling of duties on aluminum and steel imported from Turkey in August, and Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on U.S. cars, alcohol and tobacco imports. "We especially want to thank the administration. You really fought for us. Unusually so, from the time you took office, I know that you have been engaged," Brunson told Trump. At one point during his meeting, Brunson and his wife Noreen offered prayers for Trump and his administration. Brunson, who lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, was accused of having links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric blamed by Erdogan's government for a coup attempt in 2016. Brunson denied the accusations against him and Washington had demanded his immediate release "We do love Turkey. We were there for 25 years and we love the Turkish people," Brunson said. Even as U.S. officials celebrated Brunson's freedom, they called on Turkey to also release a Turkish-U.S. national and former NASA scientist in jail on terrorism charges, as well as three local employees of the U.S. consulate who have also been detained.