With Biden visit, U.S. seeks balance with
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[August 24, 2016]
By Jeff Mason and Humeyra Pamuk
RIGA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - When U.S. Vice
President Joe Biden visited Turkey in January, he struck a difficult
balance between showing support for a NATO ally faced with multiple
security threats while criticizing its record on free speech and
Now with relations between Washington and Ankara going through one of
their testiest periods in recent memory, he may find it even tougher to
get those dual messages across when he visits on Wednesday.
Biden will be the most senior U.S. official to visit Turkey since the
failed July 15 coup, when a group of rogue soldiers tried to overthrow
the government and killed at least 240 people.
Turkey says the failed putsch was orchestrated by the Muslim cleric
Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for
17 years. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called on the United
States to extradite Gulen.
Washington has yet to do so, but the U.S. State Department confirmed for
the first time on Tuesday that documents submitted by Ankara constituted
a formal extradition request, though not on issues related to the
attempted coup this year.
The perception of a slow response by Washington has angered Erdogan and
sparked an outpouring of anti-Americanism from pro-government media.
The West, for its part, is worried by the widespread purges that
followed the coup, in which some 40,000 people have been detained and
20,000 formally arrested.
Around 80,000 people have been sacked or suspended from the military,
civil service, police and judiciary. Turkey says those institutions were
infiltrated by Gulen's followers years ago in a bid to take over the
state. Gulen denies this.
Biden, who visited Latvia on Tuesday, will look to show support with
Turkey, while raising concern about the extent of the crackdown,
according to officials. Turkey will press its case for Gulen's
"The vice president will also reaffirm that the United States is doing
everything we can to support Turkey's ongoing efforts to hold
accountable those responsible for the coup attempt while ensuring the
rule of law is respected during the process," a senior Obama
administration official told reporters, briefing ahead of Biden's visit
on condition of anonymity.
Turkey is both a NATO member and part of the U.S. coalition in the fight
against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq - as well as a frequent target
for the militant group. More than 50 people were killed in a suicide
bombing over the weekend in the southeastern city of Gaziantep that may
have been orchestrated by Islamic State.
U.S. relations have been complicated by that fight, in which 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. On Monday, Turkish artillery shelled YPG positions in
Erdogan has complained about what he sees as insensitivity from the
West, saying Western countries have expressed more concern over the
post-coup crackdown than the coup itself and Western leaders have been
slow to voice support.
Erdogan has lashed out at Washington for failing to extradite Gulen.
Some Erdogan supporters have tried to blame the United States for the
coup. One newspaper said the attempt was financed by the CIA and
directed by a retired U.S. army general. Both charges were vigorously
[to top of second column]
Vice President Joe Biden (L) meets with Turkey's President Tayyip
Erdogan at Beylerbeyi Palace in Istanbul November 22, 2014.
A day after the failed putsch, the labor minister said it was clear
"America is behind it", although Erdogan's spokesman later said he
had spoken "in the heat of the moment".
Biden, who is due to meet with both Erdogan and Prime Minister
Binali Yildirim during his one-day visit to Ankara, is widely seen
as making the trip because of his ability to balance tough talk with
messages of support.
"Unhelpfully, there have been some kind of off-the-record Turkish
officials asserting that somehow the United States may have had some
role. But as the vice president would say, all of that is malarkey,"
the U.S. official said. "We'll make that clear during the meetings
and in our engagements with Turkish people."
At a weekend briefing with reporters in Istanbul, Prime Minister
Yildirim said that while Gulen's extradition would top the
discussion, Biden was also coming to improve relations.
"Why is Mr Biden coming? To make our semi-sweet relations sweet," he
said, in a reference to Turkish coffee.
He said he wanted to see the extradition process sped up, and Gulen
put under temporary arrest in the meantime.
Before the July 15 coup, Turkey had already submitted 84 dossiers on
Gulen and his movement to U.S. authorities, and has since sent
another four since the coup, Yildirim said.
A team from the United States was due to arrive in Turkey ahead of
Biden's visit and meet with judicial institutions about the
extradition, he said.
However, the U.S. official said Turkey had so far only submitted
extradition requests based on events before the coup.
"Turkish authorities have put forward a number of extradition
requests through our State Department and Department of Justice for
Mr. Gulen," he said. "As of now, the Turkish authorities have not
come forward with a formal extradition request for Gulen based on
the coup itself."
(Writing by David Dolan and David Alexander; Editing by Peter Graff
and Alan Crosby)
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