President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence double-teamed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, respectfully but repeatedly urging him Tuesday to free U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, the missionary imprisoned in Turkey seven months ago for alleged crimes against the state.
According to media reports, the White House meetings with President Erdogan primarily focused on mutual geopolitical interests, such as the battle against ISIS and the fight against Islamic extremism, generally.
The meeting marked an attempt to shore up America's complicated relationship with a NATO ally that literally serves as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. U.S.-Turkish relations grew chilly toward the end of the Obama administration. In an Al Jazeera interview last month, Erdogan remarked "Obama deceived us."
In welcoming Erdogan to the White House on Tuesday, Trump remarked: "Today we face a new enemy in the fight against terrorism, and again we seek to face this threat together."
Erdogan recently voiced displeasure with the Trump administration's decision to arm Syrian-based Kurdish soldiers engaged in the fight against ISIS, for fear the weapons could fall into the hands of other Kurds bent on destabilizing his government.
Erdogan also wants the United States to hand over Fethullah Gulen, a political opponent and cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the Erdogan government blames for an attempted coup last July.
But despite the weighty matters on the geopolitical agenda, an informed source told Newsmax that Trump and Pence also repeatedly raised the fate of Brunson, who spent more than 20 years as a Christian missionary in Turkey before his arrest.
Trump expressed a personal interest in the issue of Pastor Brunson's imprisonment. The source said Trump presented his concerns about Brunson during the meeting with Erdogan, and then again later as the two men said their goodbyes.
Vice President Pence also raised Brunson's status during a separate meeting with President Erdogan, according to the Newsmax source.
Evangelical leaders Tuesday praised the meeting as evidence of Trump's commitment to global humanitarian concerns, and international religious freedom.
"This is the latest indication that the president of the United States values international religious liberty," evangelical author and speaker Johnnie Moore told Newsmax. "It is abundantly apparent that he doesn't see the fate of persecuted Christians and America's interests in the region as mutually exclusive."
Moore, author of "Defying ISIS: Preserving Christianity in the Place of its Birth and in Your Own Backyard," sharply criticized the Obama administration, which he said had "remained repeatedly silent" as Americans were imprisoned abroad.
"It says something crystal clear, that among all the agenda items that could be discussed, that the fate of this pastor was at the front of the list," Moore told Newsmax.
"I commend President Trump and Vice President Pence for sending a message to the world that freedom of religion matters, and that the fate of every American matters to this administration."
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