- Officials from three biggest parties hold talks at DoJ
- Delegation says not turning Gulen over would hurt terror fight
Turkey stepped up pressure on the U.S. to extradite the man they blame for a failed coup last month that left more than 200 people dead and strained ties between NATO’s two biggest members.
A delegation of lawmakers representing Turkey’s three main political parties met with U.S. Department of Justice officials Monday and will go to the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department later this week. They are demanding the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a former ally turned rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has lived in rural Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.
"We are here together in order to show we are together in Turkey, regardless of political differences, ideological differences,” Kamil Aydin, a member of the delegation, told reporters at the Turkish embassy in Washington on Monday.
Last month’s failed coup -- and widespread reports in Turkish media blaming the U.S. for knowing about or supporting it -- have fueled tensions between Ankara and Washington, which depends on Turkey’s Incirlik military base as a staging ground in the fight against Islamic State.
Gulen, 75, has rejected any involvement in the putsch. U.S. officials have repeatedly rejected any knowledge or support for the coup and say they will judge Turkey’s extradition request based on the evidence.
Since the failed coup, nearly 16,000 Turkish citizens -- including journalists, judges and other government officials -- have been detained for alleged ties to the Gulen movement.
Taha Ozhan, chairman of the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs commission, said testimony from coup participants forms the main evidence of Gulen’s involvement. He said a failure to bring Gulen to justice in Turkey “would be the greatest blow to the regional and global fight against terrorism."
Yet the officials also signaled that they wouldn’t let the issue of Gulen alone sour relations between the two countries.
"We will not let a terrorist organization take hold of our relations" with the U.S., said Ozhan.