Biden Assures Erdogan of U.S. Support for Turkish Government

  • Erdogan demands U.S. detain cleric in wake of coup attempt
  • Turkey launches offensive on Islamic State before Biden lands

A young girl waves a Turkish flag during a rally held at Taksim Square on July 24, 2016, in Istanbul.

Photographer: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Vice President Joe Biden sought to reassure Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of American support during a visit to Ankara Wednesday, emphasizing that the U.S. had nothing to do with last month’s attempted coup.

“I want to make it unmistakably clear that the United States stands with our ally, Turkey,” Biden said after an hours-long meeting with Erdogan intended to repair an alliance frayed by Turkish insinuations that the U.S. fomented the uprising and is harboring its alleged mastermind. “Our support is absolute and it is unwavering. This attempted coup was an attack on the people of Turkey, not just the government.”

Biden is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Turkey since the failed coup. Before the Erdogan meeting, he held talks with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and toured the Turkish parliament building damaged in the July 15 violence. He repeatedly voiced support for Turkey -- a crucial ally in the fight against Islamic State -- and its leadership.

“I’m saddened by the unconscionable attack in an attempt to take down Turkish democracy,” Biden said in a joint press conference with Yildirim. “The United States was shocked at the violation of the fundamental democratic principles both our nations cherish.”

Biden also called the coup’s perpetrators “terrorists,” and offered an apology and condolences for “for the suffering and loss you have endured.”

Improved Cooperation

“I wish I could have been here earlier,” Biden said. Erdogan sat next to him, stone-faced. After Biden’s remarks, Erdogan called Turkey’s relationship with the U.S. a “model partnership.”

The U.S. hopes that demonstrations of solidarity can ease the tensions and allow for improved cooperation in the fight against Islamic State. Hours before Biden arrived, Turkey launched a major offensive against the militant group in Syria, meant as much to deter further advances by Syrian Kurds allied with Turkish separatists as to inflict damage on the jihadist group.

As part of the offensive, U.S. A-10s and F-16s carried out air strikes against Islamic State positions in Syrian city of Jarabulus, according to a U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity. American forces also assisted with planning for the operation and provided intelligence and reconnaissance support, another U.S. official said.

Convincing Turks

Biden’s primary objective in Ankara is to convince the Turkish people that the U.S. remains committed to the alliance and fully condemns the coup attempt, said the second official, who briefed reporters Wednesday. The U.S. has denied rumors that it had prior knowledge of the coup attempt, and Biden reiterated that position, saying the people of Turkey “have no greater friend that the people of the United States of America.”

Erdogan has said that allies in the U.S. and Europe failed to show the government enough support following the failed takeover, which it blames on a Turkish preacher living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for nearly two decades.

Turkey is demanding Fethullah Gulen’s extradition and Erdogan has suggested that the failure to hand over the cleric is damaging the U.S.-Turkey security partnership. The Obama administration says it must follow an established judicial process and that the final decision will be up to an independent U.S. court.

“This leader of this terrorist organization needs to be extradited to Turkey as soon as possible,” Erdogan said through a translator after Biden spoke. He said Gulen “should be taken into pre-trial detention” by the U.S., in part to prevent him from being interviewed by journalists, and is “currently managing and directing a terrorist organization where he lives.”

Biden said that were Obama to order Gulen’s extradition without due process, the president could face impeachment.

“He has no authority under the U.S. Constitution to extradite someone,” Biden said. “Only a federal court can do that.”

A U.S. delegation began meetings with Turkish counterparts on Tuesday to discuss the Gulen network’s activities.

‘Legal Standard’

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

Biden is expected to avoid any public criticism of the arrest of thousands of Turkish citizens in the aftermath of the coup attempt. The vice president is sensitive to the fact that the coup attempt was traumatic for the Turkish people and that sharp public criticism of its reaction could play poorly, the U.S. official said.

Privately, Biden is expected to emphasize to Turkish officials that the purge was damaging perceptions of Turkey within the U.S., Europe and the business community, the official said.

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