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Will Turkey’s release of Pastor Andrew Brunson improve relations with the U.S.?

On Friday, Pastor Andrew Brunson was freed from Turkish custody as the case of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and possible murder continues to unfold. While Brunson’s release is a sign that U.S.-Saudi relations could improve, the two countries continue to disagree over the war in Syria and the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Turkish preacher who was blamed for organizing a coup in Turkey. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have reported, there are two major stories coming out of Turkey today.

    Nick Schifrin reports on how both reveal tensions between the U.S. and critical allies.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, 50-year-old Pastor Andrew Brunson was released from Turkish custody, and the U.S.-Turkey relationship was released from its most serious point of contention.

    Brunson left the courthouse in a convoy after being convicted on terrorism charges, and was set free on timed served. He spent two years in custody and recently became a media sensation as he went between court and house arrest.

    The charges against him blocked all other progress on U.S.-Turkish relations and became the main irritant between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the U.S.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    Release Pastor Andrew Brunson now, or be prepared to face the consequences.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    From July to yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence and the administration maintained pressure on Turkey with sanctions and public statements.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    We will continue to stand strong until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, President Trump tweeted in all caps "PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON," unfreezing the Turkey-U.S. relationship, says Washington Institute for Near East Policy senior fellow Soner Cagaptay.

  • Soner Cagaptay:

    U.S.-Turkish relations hit an all-time low when President Trump slapped sanctions against Turkey because Turkey kept detaining U.S. Pastor Brunson in jail there. And Erdogan decided that it was time for him to turn their relationship around, primarily because he needs U.S. assistance also to push back another front against Saudi Arabia.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Turkey accuses Saudi Arabia of murdering Jamal Khashoggi inside its Istanbul Consulate. Turkish officials released CCTV images of what they call a Saudi hit squad that killed Khashoggi.

    And Turkish officials have anonymously claimed to have video and audio proving murder.

  • Soner Cagaptay:

    Turkey had to respond to the alleged murder of Khashoggi in Istanbul, number one, because this violated Turkey's sovereignty. Turkey is very sensitive over what it sees as violations of its sovereignty.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Erdogan's criticism has stopped short of murder charges. The Turkish currency and economy are struggling, and he would like assistance from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who's been personally connected Khashoggi's murder.

  • Soner Cagaptay:

    Erdogan wants the Saudi crown prince to take the graceful exit out, and let's say blame it on rogue elements or on people that are responsible in his administration and throw them under the bus and get out of this.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But if that doesn't happen, Erdogan would confront the Saudis. And either way, he needs U.S. help, says Cagaptay, the author of an Erdogan biography called "The New Sultan."

  • Soner Cagaptay:

    Erdogan knew that, if there was a day for him to reset with Trump, it is today. He should make it up with Trump today, so he can call him tomorrow and ask for his assistance in what will be a very friendly phone conversation in the case of Khashoggi, number one, so that maybe Trump will convince the crown prince to take the graceful exit out.

    And if that doesn't work, then maybe he has U.S. backing to push back against Khashoggi incident.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There's no guarantee that will work, and there's no guarantee the U.S.-Turkey relationship will smooth over entirely.

    There are still major disagreements beginning in Syria. The U.S. teams with Kurdish fighters to fight ISIS, but Turkey calls the Kurds terrorists. Turkey plans to buy the U.S.' most advanced jet fighters, but it also wants Russian missiles that threaten those fighters.

    And the U.S. and Turkey disagree over Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, that Turkey says launched a failed 2016 coup, as Erdogan told the "NewsHour"s Amna Nawaz last month.

  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan (through translator):

    We asked for it. We asked for extradition. And we signed all the necessary documents and paperwork. They could have reported him with an administrative decision. But, unfortunately, the U.S. didn't extradite him.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Despite the tensions, Turkey is a NATO ally with vital geography.

  • Soner Cagaptay:

    They're the only country that borders Iran, Iraq, Syria, ISIS-held territory, and Russia across the Black Sea. Whatever U.S. policies are regarding those five entities and countries, they're much easier with Turkey on board.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And any cooperation is much easier now that Brunson's been released.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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