Obama Presses Erdogan in Phone Call to Respect Rights

U.S., EU Warn Turkey's Erdogan Over Coup Crackdown
  • President says U.S. backs democratically elected government
  • Obama, Turkish president talk four days after coup attemp

President Barack Obama pledged U.S. support for the democratically elected government of Turkey while urging embattled Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to respect civil liberties as he responds to the coup attempt that almost forced him from power.

Obama spoke with Erdogan by phone Tuesday and pledged “any needed assistance to the Turkish government” in the wake of last week’s attempted coup, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington. Even so, Obama made clear the U.S. expects that any inquiry should be conducted “consistent with the democratic” values of the Turkish constitution, he said while declining to answer whether the U.S. is concerned that the response won’t respect those democratic values.

“Those are the values that the Turkish people were defending in repelling the coup,” Earnest said. “One good piece of evidence of that is you promptly saw” all parties of the Turkish parliament condemning the attempted coup -- even parties “who have vigorous political disagreements” with the Turkish government.

The coup attempt led by a faction of Turkey’s military the night of July 15 has tested relations between the U.S. and Turkey, which is a NATO ally and important partner in the fight against Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq. Erdogan has demanded that the U.S. extradite or deport a reclusive Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania and whom he blames for inciting the rebellion. Erdogan and Gulen are onetime allies who are now political opponents.

Gulen on Tuesday urged the U.S. to “reject any effort to abuse the extradition process to carry out political vendettas,” in a statement posted on the website of a group affiliated to him. The cleric reiterated his denial that he had any involvement in “the horrific failed coup.”

Extradition Steps

During their call, Obama and Erdogan discussed Gulen’s status, Earnest said. Separately, he said, the Turkish government on Tuesday submitted information related to the cleric that the U.S. government is reviewing. He said it was too early to say whether the documents represent a formal extradition request.

Earnest said any decision on Gulen would be made according to steps established by U.S. law and not by Obama. If a formal request is received, the U.S. would consider it on its merits and make a decision based on whether it thinks it relates to crimes covered by the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Turkey and on whether there’s evidence that crimes were committed.

“There is a process that we will follow” as it relates to Gulen, Earnest said. “There also is due process to which people who live in the United States are entitled. And we’ll make sure that that due process is followed as well.”

Turkish Crackdown

Turkish authorities have vowed to crush those behind the coup, and have announced the arrests of more than 6,000 soldiers and suspension of thousands of police officers and judges from duty. The military counts about 620,000 members and the police force has about 250,000. Erdogan’s cabinet and National Security Council are expected to deliberate on further actions against the plotters.

Erdogan said over the weekend that any country that stands with Gulen “will be considered not a friend of Turkey but at war with them.”

On Tuesday, Turkey ordered 1,577 deans at state and private universities to resign, a day ahead of an “important” announcement from Erdogan. The Turkish leader refused to elaborate on the objective of Wednesday’s announcement, which a presidential official said would boost social cohesion and Turkey’s democratic credentials.

Turkey’s lira plunged to its lowest level since January amid the turmoil in the country. The central bank cut interest rates, and Moody’s Investors Service said it may lower the country’s credit rating to junk.

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