Biden seeks to reassure Turkey over alleged coup plotter

Biden seeks to reassure Turkey over alleged coup plotter
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Vice President Biden on Wednesday sought to tamp down tensions between the United States and Turkey, during a visit to Ankara a month after a failed coup attempt that Turkish leaders claim was orchestrated by a cleric in Pennsylvania. 

In a press conference alongside Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, Biden pledged “unwavering support” to the Turkish government, and vigorously denied that Washington had any role in the unsuccessful July 15 insurrection.

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He also refused to promise a handover Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish cleric who has lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. since 1999.

Biden insisted that the matter remained in the hands of the American justice system, in which he could not interfere.

“We have no, no, no, no interest whatsoever in protecting anyone who has done harm to an ally,” Biden said. “But we need to meet legal standard requirements under our law.”

It is “totally understandable why the people of Turkey are angry,” he added. “But we will continue to work closely with Turkish government as process unfolds.”

Biden’s visit to Ankara on Wednesday was interpreted as an effort to reassure Turkey’s leaders about support from the U.S., following on the heels of last month’s aborted coup.

A total of 265 people were killed in an attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by sections of the military. The effort was ultimately unsuccessful, after the revolters failed to secure key Turkish facilities or win over support from the public.

Turkish leaders have targeted their blame squarely at Gülen, despite his insistence of having no involvement.

“This heinous coup attempt was in our opinion orchestrated and instructed by Fethullah Gülen,” Yıldırım said Wednesday. “And as per the treaties we have, the necessary steps should be taken with a view to his extradition.”

Ankara sent four separate extradition requests for Gülen to Washington following the coup last month, though none of them included his alleged revolutionary activities.

A legal review of the request is currently underway at the Justice and State Departments, and officials from the Obama administration were sent to Ankara to discuss the issue with the Turks.

“Having technical team from the U.S. on the ground is a clear sign from your side that you’re taking this seriously and attaching great importance to it,” Yıldırım told Biden. “Thanks for being sensitive to the matter.”

Some Turks have interpreted the Obama administration’s reluctance to immediately turn Gülen over as a sign that Washington was somehow complicit in the failed coup, a charge that Biden vigorously rejected Wednesday.

“Let me be clear, I want to ease any speculation, some of which I have heard, as to whether or not the U.S. had some advance warning, some foreknowledge of complicity,” Biden said. “The United States of America did not — did not have any foreknowledge of what befell you on the 15th.

“The people of the United States of America abhor what happened and under no circumstances would support anything remotely approaching the cowardly act of the treasonous members of military.”

In the aftermath of the uprising last month, Erdoğan has launched a massive roundup of officials throughout the military and civil service, in what critics warn could be an excuse for him to move further toward authoritarianism.

Turkey remains a NATO ally and provides a vital bulwark against the civil war in neighboring Syria, causing many in Washington to put a lid on concerns about Erdoğan’s creeping autocracy.

As Biden met with Turkish officials on Wednesday, the U.S. and Turkey undertook a joint military offensive aimed at routing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) out of the Syrian border town of Jarabulus.

In a key move to bolster Turkey, the offensive was reportedly designed to rein in U.S.-backed Kurdish militants, whom officials in Ankara have eyed warily over connections to Kurdish nationalists in Turkey.