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Turkey’s leader says US has ‘no excuse’ to keep imam blamed for coup

Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pa., on Sept. 26, 2013. Courtesy Selahattin Sevi/Zaman Daily via Cihan News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) — Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said he would tell U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that Washington has “no excuse” for not handing over the Pennsylvania-based cleric blamed for last month’s failed coup.

Erdogan, who is due to meet with Biden in Ankara later on Wednesday, said Turkey would continue to provide U.S. officials with documents to demand the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.

Gulen, once an Erdogan ally, denies any involvement in the July 15 coup attempt and has condemned it. But Turkish officials say a network of Gulen supporters for years infiltrated Turkey’s military and public offices to create a “parallel state.”

“We will tell him that FETO’s leader is in your country,” Erdogan said, using an acronym for “Gulenist Terror Organisation,” the name Ankara has given Gulen‘s network. “If a country wants a criminal in your country to be extradited, you have no rights to argue with that.”

Erdogan said Turkey and Washington were strategic partners and keeping Gulen would not benefit the United States.

Biden, who arrived in Turkey on Wednesday, was guided by Turkish officials around the parliament, which was damaged during the coup attempt. He is also expected to meet with the prime minister.

Rogue troops commandeered tanks, jets and helicopters to attack state institutions in Istanbul and Ankara last month in the failed coup bid that killed 240 people and triggered a massive purge of thousands of suspected Gulen followers in Turkey’s armed forces and civil service.

Washington has said it needs clear evidence to extradite Gulen. Its failure to do so — and the perception of a slow response to the coup from Western allies — has angered Erdogan and chilled relations with Washington and the European Union.

The U.S. State Department has confirmed documents submitted by Ankara constituted a formal extradition request, although not on issues related to the coup.

Hours before Biden’s arrival, Turkish forces launched a major operation inside Syria to clear Islamic State militants out of the Syrian frontier town Jarablus, backed by U.S.-led coalition warplanes.

Turkey is both a NATO member and part of the U.S. coalition in the fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

But U.S.-Ankara relations have been complicated by that conflict. Washington backs the Syrian Kurdish YPG rebels against Islamic State. Ankara is worried the YPG’s advance emboldens Kurdish insurgents in its mainly Kurdish southeast.

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  • I hope the US will not in its self-interest but only if the proof given justifies extradition. He will not, in my opinion, get a fair trial especially with Erdogan calling for the reinstatement of capital punishment. It is obvious that Turkey will no longer be secular or democratic and we have to forget about Turkey’s geopolitical significance and do the right thing.

  • As much as I would like to cut Turkey loose, they are still a NATO member and we need them against ISIS, and relatedly as a major player on our side, not Russia’s or Assad’s. But yeah, they were a lot more strategically beneficial when they were a secular, democratic Muslim state that not only was allied with the West but had congenial relations with Israel.

  • C’mon Turkey, just drone strike Philadelphia already. It’s what the US would do, I’m sure they’ll understand.

  • So keep working with the blatantly corrupt dictator because of entangling foreign doom alliances. Sorry, not sold.

  • Which is why in this case we’re doing the diplomatic equivalent of telling him to go suck a lemon.

  • While I have no opinion one way or the other about cleric Fethullah Gulen’s alleged involvement in the failed Turkish coup, we should be concerned about the 150 or so charter schools in the US associated with Gulen and being generously supported by US taxpayers. These unregulated schools not under any control by US taxpayers have been charged with all sorts of irregularities that have undergone some, but not enough, examination. Of course, the Gulen-related charter schools are only part of the charter school mess that is draining money away from the regular public schools that serve nearly 90% of our kids. Let’s get these Gulen schools off the US payroll. — Edd Doerr

  • This is a very sticky wicket. Erdogan has become a dictator and there are many reports of extrajudicial imprisonment and killings since the failed coup. The rule of law appears to be out of Erdogan’s favor in Turkey.

    I believe it was last week that Erdogan visited with Putin or his emissary. That’s a big problem for the USA, as Erdogan knows well. Yes, he’s playing both the US and Russia. This is what diplomacy is and we have a State Department that is good at it. A Turkey aligned with Russia would present huge, crippling problems in the Middle East for us.

    Can the Obama administration make a deal that provides Gulen to Erdogan for, say, a return to the rule of law by Erdogan? There is a deal to be made and I guarantee that’s what Joe Biden and John Kerry are working on right now. Diplomacy is messy, but war is death for thousands and more. I’ll take diplomacy. (It’s much cheaper too.)

  • By all accounts, Erdogan is a wily and clever operator, not to be trusted too far. Irrespective of the questions arising about the Imam in question, I would not surrender him to the tender mercies of Erdogan, nor does it seem likely he was the “mastermind” behind the attempted “coup.” It does however seem likely the Erdogan has in point of fact instituted a coup of his own against the Turkish people.

  • Good point. My comment was related to the news item about Gulen. However, most charter schools are suspect for various reasons. The 2014 Stanford University CREDO study found that nearly 40% of charter schools are worse than regular public schools, while fewer than 20% are any better, and that due mainly to their various forms of selectivity. John Oliver’s Aug 21 TV show segment on charters highlighted some of the problems. — Edd Doerr