Donald Trump and Pastor Andrew Brunson
During the first night of the Republican National Convention on Monday, President Donald Trump spoke highly of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to an American pastor who was held captive in Turkey for two years.
In a pre-recorded segment that aired during the RNC on Monday night, Trump, 74, sat down in the White House with six former hostages, including pastor Andrew Brunson, who was freed from captivity in Turkey in 2018 after being arrested on espionage and terrorism charges in 2016.
"I was held in Turkey for two years and you took unprecedented steps to secure my release and your administration really fought for me," Brunson told Trump. "I think if you hadn't done that, I may still be in Turkey."
After Brunson told the president he was "grateful" for his administration, Trump praised Erdoğan, which he has previously done during his presidency.
"I have to say that, to me, President Erdoğan was very good," Trump said. "I know they had you scheduled for a long time and you were a very innocent person, and he ultimately, after we had a few conversations, he agreed."
Win McNamee/Getty; Ali Balikci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Donald Trump and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
"So we appreciate the people of Turkey," the president said, adding to Brunson, "and you still appreciate the people of Turkey I understand, right?"
"We love the Turkish people," Brunson said.
"That's great," Trump said. "It's great to have you back Andrew."
According to The Hill and the Huffington Post U.K., Brunson worked in Turkey for 23 years as the pastor of the Resurrection Church before he was detained for an alleged connection to a failed coup against Erdoğan in 2016, though he denied any wrongdoing.
After the White House imposed tariffs and threatened political pressure on the Turkish government, Brunson was ultimately released in 2018, both outlets reported.
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Trump previously praised Erdoğan, 66, in November 2019 following the pair's meeting in the Oval Office, which came just one month after the president's withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria triggered a Turkish onslaught, CNN reported at the time.
During the meeting, Trump reportedly told Erdoğan that it was "an honor" to host him.
"You're doing a fantastic job for the people of Turkey," Trump said, according to CNN, adding later that Erdoğan has a "great relationship with the Kurds," a group Turkey has deemed terrorists.
After the leaders' discussion, Trump reportedly left declaring himself a "big fan" of Erdoğan.