Pompeo Presses Turkey to Release Detained American Pastor


SINGAPORE—Secretary of State

Mike Pompeo

met his Turkish counterpart here to press for the release of a U.S. pastor detained for two years in Turkey on allegations of aiding a failed effort to topple the country’s government.

The talks with Turkish Foreign Minister

Mevlut Çavuşoğlu

took place on the sidelines of a regional gathering where Mr. Pompeo could meet with senior officials from North Korea and Iran, both priorities on the U.S. agenda.

The meeting with Turkey comes after the U.S. imposed sanctions on two Turkish officials, following Ankara’s refusal to release

Andrew Brunson,

a pastor from Black Mountain, N.C., who was arrested in Turkey in late 2016.

Turkish officials accuse Mr. Brunson of helping a failed coup that year. U.S. officials say the case is politically motivated.

Mr. Pompeo told reporters aboard his flight to Singapore that the measures were intended as a message to Turkey that the U.S. had run out of patience.

“The Turks were well on notice that the clock had run and that it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned, and I hope they’ll see this for what it is, a demonstration that we’re very serious,” the secretary said.

Turkey has threatened to retaliate with sanctions of its own unless the U.S. reverses the decision.

U.S. officials tried to secure a deal to secure the pastor’s return to the U.S. last month, but it fell apart amid disagreements about the terms, according to people familiar with the discussions. Instead of returning home, Mr. Brunson was transferred last week to house arrest on the Turkish coast, where he led a church for over two decades.

It was unclear if Mr. Pompeo had made any progress resolving the dispute during the meeting with Mr. Çavuşoğlu.

Heather Nauert,

the State Department’s spokeswoman, described the discussion as constructive.

“They agreed to continue to try to resolve the issues between our two countries,” she said in a statement.

The case has become a cause célèbre among evangelical Christian groups, one of the most faithful blocs in the Republican fold. But it is only one of a growing number of disputes between the two NATO allies.

Mr. Pompeo is also calling for the release of other U.S. citizens and local embassy staff detained since the failed military coup over two years ago.

“These are innocent people. Pastor Brunson is an innocent pastor and they need to let him return to the United States and they need to let our locally employed folks [out],” Mr. Pompeo told reporters. “Everyone needs to be let out. That’s the message.”

Turkey wants the U.S. to deport Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania accused by Ankara of plotting the overthrow of the government of President

Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr. Gülen has denied the allegations.

Turkey also opposes the conviction of a Turkish banker sentenced to 32 months in an American prison for violating U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mr. Çavuşoğlu, described the meeting as constructive but cautioned the matter couldn’t be resolved quickly.

“We have said since the beginning that threatening language and sanctions will not get any result. We have repeated this today. We think this is very well understood,” he told reporters in Singapore.

The U.S. and Turkey have a complicated relationship in Syria. Turkey is relying on the U.S. to fight Islamic State, but is critical of U.S. Special Forces working alongside Kurdish fighters that Turkey views as terrorists.

Mr. Pompeo is in Singapore to attend a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, and hold bilateral talks on the sidelines.

North Korean Foreign Minister

Ri Yong Ho

is attending, and U.S. officials have indicated a meeting between officials from the two countries may take place.

The U.S. is seeking to maintain pressure on North Korea to relinquish its nuclear arsenal, following a summit in Singapore between leader

Kim Jong Un

and President Trump in June, where the two agreed to work toward denuclearization.

In recent weeks, despite an improvement in relations, satellite imagery has shown what appear to be continued North Korean efforts to expand its weapons program.

“We can see we still have a ways to go to achieve the ultimate outcome we’re looking for,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters.

The secretary is expected to use the Asean meeting to press countries on the importance of strictly enforcing U.N. sanctions targeting North Korea. U.S. officials are concerned about reports of a growing number of transshipments of oil and other critical goods to North Korean vessels.

Southeast Asian countries have a different focus: signs the U.S. is disengaging after it withdrew from a Pacific trade pact. They are also concerned the widening U.S. trade feud with China may damage their economies, which are closely interlinked.

Mr. Pompeo has yet to publicly outline the U.S. strategy for trade and investment in Asia, after announcing this week that the Trump administration planned to deepen ties with the region.

Write to Jessica Donati at jessica.donati@wsj.com



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