Pastor Andrew Brunson's case will be decided by court, Erdogan says

"As the president, I don't have the right to order his release. Our judiciary is independent. Let's wait and see what the court will decide."

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By Reuters

NEW YORK — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a court, not politicians, will decide the fate of an American pastor whose detention on terrorism charges has hit relations between Ankara and Washington.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday he was hopeful Turkey would release evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson this month. The preacher was moved to house arrest in July after being detained for 21 months.

In an interview with Reuters late Tuesday while he was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings, Erdogan said any decision on Brunson would be made by the court.

"This is a judiciary matter. Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges ... On Oct. 12 there will be another hearing and we don't know what the court will decide and politicians will have no say on the verdict," Erdogan said.

If found guilty, Brunson could be jailed for up to 35 years. The North Carolina native denies the charges.

"As the president, I don't have the right to order his release. Our judiciary is independent. Let's wait and see what the court will decide," Erdogan said.

President Donald Trump, infuriated by Brunson's detention, authorized a doubling of duties on aluminum and steel imported from Turkey in August. Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on U.S. cars, alcohol and tobacco imports.

The Turkish lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year on concerns over Erdogan’s grip on monetary policy and the diplomatic dispute between Ankara and Washington.

"The Brunson case is not even closely related to Turkey's economy. The current economic challenges have been exaggerated more than necessary and Turkey will overcome these challenges with its own resources," Erdogan said.

In an effort to boost the economy and attract investors, Erdogan will travel Friday to Germany, a country that is home to millions of Turks.

Erdogan confirmed that he will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel during his visit.

The two NATO members have differed over Turkey’s crackdown on suspected opponents of Erdogan after a failed coup in 2016 and over its detention of German citizens.

Erdogan said Turkey will continue to buy natural gas from Iran in line with its long-term supply contract despite Trump's threats to punish countries doing business with Iran.

"We need to be realistic ... Am I supposed to let people freeze in winter? ... Nobody should be offended. How can I heat my people's homes if we stop purchasing Iran's natural gas?," he said.

Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 multinational nuclear deal with Iran and Washington last month reimposed sanctions that had been lifted two years ago under the pact.

U.S. sanctions on Iran’s energy sector are set to be re-imposed in November.

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