The US is demanding the release of Andrew Brunson, who led a Protestant church in Izmir before his detention in October 2016 (-)

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday in an attempt to stave off a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Ankara over the detention of an American pastor in Turkey.

The United States is demanding the release of Andrew Brunson, who led a Protestant church in the Aegean city of Izmir, after he was placed under house arrest last week following nearly two years in jail on charges of espionage and supporting terror groups.

The meeting comes days after Washington hit two top Turkish officials with sanctions over Brunson’s detention, prompting Ankara to threaten reciprocal measures.

The US State Department said it continues to favour a diplomatic approach as it announced the Pompeo-Cavusoglu meeting, scheduled for 12:30 pm (0430 GMT) on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Singapore.

But “this has gone on for too long”, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters earlier this week, referring to the detention of Brunson, whose trial began in the spring.

He faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted.

Pompeo and Cavusoglu spoke by phone on Wednesday as the US announced sanctions on Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. The US claims both men played a major role in the arrest and detention of the pastor.

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo have made Brunson’s release a priority.

His detention has fuelled a bitter diplomatic fued between Turkey and the US, whose relations have already deteriorated in recent months over the Syrian conflict.

The standoff appears to be one of the most serious crises between the two NATO allies in modern history, along with the rows over the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

Brunson was initially detained in October 2016 during Turkey’s crackdown following an attempted putsch.

He stands accused of carrying out activities on behalf of two organisations Turkey considers terror groups.

One is led by the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says was behind the failed coup, while the other is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The pastor denies the charges and his defence team argues the case is built on questionable witness statements. His next hearing is set for October 12.

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