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Trump calls for release of jailed American pastor during meeting with Turkish president

(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meets with U.S President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. May 16, 2017.

U.S. President Donald Trump has urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to release imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson during their meeting in Washington on Tuesday.

The White House has confirmed that Trump brought up the issue of the jailed pastor in his first face-to-face meeting with Erdogan since he took office in January.

"President Trump raised the incarceration of Pastor Andrew Brunson and asked that the Turkish Government expeditiously return him to the United States," the White House said in a statement, according to CNN.

According to The Christian Post, Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence raised the issue of Brunson's plight at least three times in different meetings with the Turkish president.

Brunson, a North Carolina native, was arrested last October due to his alleged ties to a terrorist organization. He had asked Trump for help earlier this year when he met with Embassy officials in prison.

In March, Brunson's wife, Norine, had a 20-minute meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the issue during his visit to Ankara.

Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey's Parliament who has advocated for the Brunson's release, has maintained that there is no basis for the charges against the pastor.

"Unfortunately, Pastor Andrew Brunson is now a pawn, kind of a trump card in Erdogan's hand. There's absolutely no rule of law, no due process in that case, it's a completely bogus case. Anyone who has looked at the case knows that these are trumped up charges," said Erdemir, as reported by CBN News.

On Thursday, Jay Sekulow with the advocacy group American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) met with Trump and Pence to discuss Brunson's situation and noted that the two leaders had shown interest in securing the pastor's release.

The ACLJ issued a statement on its website to commend Trump for urging Erdogan to release Brunson.

"This is exactly what we asked the President to do and is a major sign of significant progress toward bringing Pastor Andrew home," the statement read.

The Trump administration has stated that it has been instrumental in securing the release of U.S. citizens detained in other countries.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted that Trump worked "directly... behind the scenes" to secure the release of Egyptian-American aid worker Aya Hijazi, who was imprisoned in Egypt for nearly three years on child abuse and human trafficking charges.

Last month, Sen. Ted Cruz said that Trump had provided "leadership" in securing the release of U.S. businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis, who has been detained in China for over two years on espionage charges.

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