An American pastor released from a Turkish prison on Friday knelt at Donald Trump’s feet on Saturday, praying for the US president during a gathering in the Oval Office.
Andrew Brunson, a 50-year-old preacher from North Carolina, who has lived in Turkey for over 25 years, asked Mr Trump if he could pray for him.
“I need it more than anybody in this room,” the president replied.
Mr Brunson then knelt, asking God to give Mr Trump “the wisdom to lead this country into righteousness”.
He continued: "Protect him from slander, from enemies. Fill him with your wisdom, and strength, and perseverance."
Mr Brunson was detained in October 2016 and charged with links to Kurdish militants and supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed by Turkey for a failed coup attempt that year. He strongly denied any links to militants, and Mr Trump took up his case with gusto, demanding the preacher be released. His case became a bitter diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington.
Mr Trump said the pastor’s release marked a significant improvement in US-Turkish relations.
“This is a great step towards having the kind of relationship with Turkey that we want to have,” he said, emphasizing that the US had not made any payment or granted concessions to Turkey in exchange for his release.
"The only deal, if you can call it a deal, is a psychological one," he said. "We feel much different to Turkey today than we did yesterday. I think we have a chance now to have a really great relationship."
There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2018
Flanked by Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and John Bolton, the national security advisor, plus a phalanx of senators and advisors, Mr Trump paid tribute to the work of his team in securing his release. He also said the country was delighted he was home.
“Right now the whole world is a fan of yours,” he said.
Mr Brunson said he and his family still loved Turkey and the Turkish people, but added that he was unsure what he would do next.
“Spend time with our children, and then pray and see what God wants next for us," he said.
"In the future we will probably be doing some interviews, but this is just a time to thank this administration. We love this country. Last night we arrived in Germany, and the ambassador met us at 1:30am – I couldn’t believe it. He had a flag and I took it and very naturally kissed it."
His wife, Norine, added her thanks to the president, who jokingly asked who she voted for. She replied that she had voted for him.
"I sent an absentee ballot from prison," Mr Brunson added.
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