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Was Secretary of State Pompeo surprised by Trump threats against Turkey?

Trump's threats against ally were allegedly a surprise to Secretary of State Pompeo, who's been trying to free U.S. pastor detained in Turkey.
Image: Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 25, 2018, during a hearing on diplomacy and national security.Susan Walsh / AP

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may have been surprised by threats against NATO ally Turkey made Thursday by President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, two State Department sources told NBC News.

The threats concern the fate of North Carolina Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained by Turkish officials based on allegations of terror and espionage. Trump tweeted Thusday that the "United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey" for keeping Brunson in custody.

Trump called him "a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being."

Andrew Craig Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, arrives at his house in Izmir, Turkey on July 25, 2018. Brunson, who has been jailed in Turkey for more than one and a half years on terror and espionage charges was released Wednesday and will be put under house arrest as his trial continues.Emre Tazegul / AP

Earlier, Pence warned of "significant sanctions" against Turkey as he spoke at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom conference in Washington.

Pompeo, hosting the three-day confab, was surprised to hear the tough talk, two sources said.

Another source with the department, however, pushed back against that characterization, saying that there was coordination behind the scenes.

The Secretary of State had been involved in delicate negotiations in an attempt to free the 50-year-old pastor, who had been jailed for a year and a half on what the U.S. maintains are false charges connected to a failed coup attempt against Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey cited health reasons for releasing Brunson to home detention Wednesday. In a potential quid pro quo Erdogan has demanded the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the leader has held responsible for the failed July 2016 military coup.

The American threats, made after Pence met privately with Brunson’s family behind the scenes of the religious conference Thursday, have apprently served to harden Turkey's resolve in the case, which could see the pastor serve 20 years if found guilty.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted in English Thursday: “No one dictates Turkey. We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception.”

Turkey, serving as the West's traditional window to Asia, the Middle East and multiple post-Soviet states, is a geographically strategic ally that's home to two U.S. Air Force bases.

And this is not the first time in recent days the Secretary of State has been surprised by White House tweets on foreign policy, despite Pompeo's reported closeness with the president.

Two officials outside the State Department confirmed to NBC News that Pompeo, like Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, was not aware that National Security Advisor John Bolton directed Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to tweet a White House invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin last Thursday.

The invitation to Putin was tweeted out while a seemingly surprised Coats was on stage with NBC News' Andrea Mitchell at the Aspen Security Forum last week. "That's going to be special," he said of the future summit.

Yesterday, shortly before Pompeo went to Capitol Hill and underwent a fusillade of criticism from senators of both political parties at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bolton withdrew the invitation.