Trump Welcomes Home Pastor Andrew Brunson-but Denies Link to Saudi Case
WASHINGTON — President Trump welcomed home on Saturday an American pastor freed by Turkey and said the release would improve relations with Ankara, but he denied any connection to the dispute between Turkey and Saudi Arabia over the missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
With television cameras on hand to record the event, Mr. Trump invited the pastor, Andrew Brunson, to the Oval Office roughly an hour after he had landed back in the United States. In an emotional moment, Mr. Brunson asked if he could pray for Mr. Trump, then knelt next to him and asked God to give the president “supernatural wisdom.”
Mr. Brunson’s sudden release after two years in detention came as the Turkish government was seeking help from Mr. Trump in its confrontation with Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and apparent murder of Mr. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and critic of the royal family. Mr. Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul but never emerged, and Turkish officials said he was killed and dismembered with a bone saw.
Turkey is looking for the United States to back it up in forcing Saudi Arabia to account for Mr. Khashoggi’s fate, but Mr. Trump insisted on Saturday that Mr. Brunson’s release was not related. “The timing is a strict coincidence,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “It really is.”
Mr. Brunson’s case had become a cause célèbre among religious conservatives, and Mr. Trump eagerly embraced it. He credited the pressure he had put on Turkey for Mr. Brunson’s release, but said he had agreed to no deal. “The only deal, if you could call it a deal, is a psychological one,” he said. “We feel much different about Turkey today than we did yesterday.”
That may be exactly what Turkey wanted, given the clash over Mr. Khashoggi, but Mr. Trump made clear once again that he had no immediate or specific plans to take action against Saudi Arabia. He again rejected the idea of canceling or postponing arms sales on the grounds that it would cost American businesses money and jobs, and he made no move to cancel Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s coming trip to Saudi Arabia for an investment conference, even though several American businesses are pulling out.
In an interview with “60 Minutes” to be aired on CBS on Sunday, Mr. Trump said “there will be severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia is found to have ordered the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, but neither in the interview nor in his comments to reporters on Saturday did he suggest what such punishment would look like. Instead, he extolled the virtues of an arms sales deal he cut with Saudi Arabia during a visit last year.
“I worked very hard to get the order for the military,” he said. “If they don’t buy it from us, they’re going to buy it from Russia or they’re going to buy it from China or they’re going to buy it from other countries.” Canceling the sales, he said, “I actually think we would be punishing ourselves if we did that.”
Mr. Trump said that he had received a letter from Mr. Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, and that he had invited her to meet with him. He said that he planned to call King Salman of Saudi Arabia later on Saturday or Sunday to ask him about Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.
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