Trump mulled pulling US diplomats from Turkey before pastor’s release: report

Trump mulled pulling US diplomats from Turkey before pastor’s release: report
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The Trump administration drafted a plan to withdraw U.S. diplomats from Turkey in the event that pastor Andrew Brunson was not released from prison at a hearing last week, ABC News reported Sunday.

The news outlet, citing administration and State Department officials, reported that President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE called for the plan in late August, when he publicly expressed disappointment in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for failing to free Brunson.

The plan would have started with the removal of chief diplomats, and, over a 60-day period, included the closure of nearly all American diplomatic operations in the country, ABC reported. The move would have been unprecedented, as it would have cut off diplomatic missions with a NATO ally.

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ABC reported that Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHeather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN ambassador job The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight Overnight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents MORE disagreed with the approach, but wrote up an eight-page draft plan of the concept.

"For a while, we were in fear of an apocalyptic break in relations with Turkey," a senior State Department official told the network. 

The State Department denied to ABC that such a plan was ever drafted, however.

"The assertion that there was a plan to close our diplomatic relations with Turkey or our diplomatic facilities in Turkey is patently false," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told the network.

"As a matter of policy, we never discuss our internal process other than to say that we always consider a full range of options when addressing international responses,” Nauert added. “Mission Turkey is one of our most important posts in Europe. We will continue to devote the necessary diplomatic attention and resources befitting a NATO ally."

Brunson, who was held in a Turkish prison for roughly two years for an alleged role in a failed coup against Erdoğan, was released last week on time served and returned to the U.S. He visited with Trump in the Oval Office on Saturday. Brunson, who spent years working in Turkey, has denied the charges against him.

Trump has insisted that there was no broader deal with Turkey that led to Brunson's release, despite reports that the administration had agreed to ease economic sanctions on the country as part of the pastor's release.

Trump and Vice President Pence had on multiple occasions in recent months spoken out about Brunson's imprisonment and called on Erdoğan to free the pastor. Trump suggested in August that he was upset the Turkish leader did not do so after the U.S. helped Turkey free one of its citizens in Israel.