Andrew Brunson in a photo provided by his family.

US President Donald Trump has raised the issue of a US pastor imprisoned in Turkey during his first face-to-face meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Washington DC, reports CNN.

According to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Erdoğan yesterday (16 May) about releasing Andrew Brunson, an Evangelical Presbyterian pastor jailed last October as a “national security risk”.

After the two presidents met, the White House confirmed: “President Trump raised the incarceration of Pastor Andrew Brunson and asked that the Turkish government expeditiously return him to the United States.”

“This is a major sign of significant progress toward bringing Pastor Andrew home,” ACLJ stated on its website. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had met with Brunson’s wife in late March, during a one-day stopover with Turkish government officials in Ankara.

In an ACLJ petition filed to the United Nations on Monday (15 May), the Christian advocacy group campaigning for Brunson’s release stated that the pastor’s detention “appears to be related to his work as a Christian minister”.

But the Turkish media had reported at the time that Brunson was arrested for links with Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric accused by President Erdoğan of orchestrating the failed military coup attempt against his government last July. Brunson is among nearly 50,000 people arrested since the coup by Turkish authorities for allegedly supporting what Ankara calls the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO).

Turkish-US relations have been strained ever since by the US refusal to extradite Gülen, who is US-based, back to Turkish custody.