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President Trump and President of Turkey Erdogan ahead of their meeting at the White House. Photo: Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In President Trump's meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House last May, Trump opened the meeting by saying that Vice President Mike Pence would like to say something, according to an administration official briefed on the meeting.

Pence took the opportunity to advocate for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a Christian leader in the U.S. who is being persecuted in Turkey.

Trump, who has made bringing Americans overseas back home a focus of his presidency and tweeted about Brunson Tuesday night, and Pence, a social conservative wired in to the issue of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, have both since raised the issue with Turkish officials.

State of play: The assumption within senior levels of the administration is that Erdogan is using Brunson as a bargaining chip to force the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish dissident living in Pennsylvania who Erdogan believes has been organizing a revolution against him.

What we're hearing: The U.S. is not willing to extradite Gulen in exchange for Brunson — it is not a deal they're willing to make, according to an administration official briefed on the situation.

Go deeper

New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation with tobacco ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand officials announced Thursday legislative plans to outlaw smoking by making it illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to the next generation as part of a lifetime ban.

Why it matters: "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement announcing the proposed law, part of the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan.

FDA approves AstraZeneca COVID drug for people with immune problems

Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for an AstraZeneca COVID-19 antibody drug for people with compromised immune systems.

Why it matters: The drug, Evusheld, is the first antibody therapy authorized in the U.S. to prevent coronavirus symptoms before virus exposure.

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.