THE US is awaiting a formal plea to turn over a Pennsylvania-based cleric suspected by Turkey of inspiring a military coup attempt, said US Secretary of State John Kerry, dismissing as “irresponsible” any accusation of US involvement in the uprising.
“We have not had a formal request for extradition — that has to come in a formal package” and be sent to the US Justice Department, Kerry said on CNN’s State of the Union broadcast on Sunday.
“Give us the evidence, show us the evidence. We need a solid legal foundation that meets the standard of extradition in order for our courts to approve such a request.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s ordered massive reprisals for the failed attempt to oust him, confirmed on Sunday from Istanbul that such a formal request will be submitted.
On Saturday he had challenged President Barack Obama directly to turn over Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher who lives in exile in rural Pennsylvania, saying Turkey’s Nato ally needs to do what is necessary “if we are truly strategic partners”.
Kerry pushed back against an insinuation, made most forcefully by Turkish Labour Minister Suleyman Soylu, that the US was involved in the military uprising that left almost 200 dead before the Erdogan-led government regained control on Saturday.
“The United States is not harbouring anybody, we’re not preventing anything from happening,” Kerry said. “We think it’s irresponsible to have accusations of American involvement when we’re simply waiting for their request” for the extradition.
Kerry also said that the coup had caught Washington by surprise. “I don’t think anybody’s intelligence had information — particularly the Turkish intelligence,” he said on CNN. “The nature of a coup — you rarely have indicators” in advance, he said.
The back-and-forth between the two countries occurred against the backdrop of Turkey closing its airspace on Saturday, effectively grounding US war planes that had been targeting militant Islamic State forces in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
Gulen quickly condemned Friday night’s coup attempt by military officers that resulted in a night of explosions, air battles and gunfire that left dozens dead. Erdogan’s government said Gulen directed the coup all the same.
In a televised speech on Saturday, Erdogan said Turkey had never rejected a US extradition request for “terrorists”. Addressing Washington, he requested the handover of Gulen and said, “If we are strategic partners, then you should bring about our request.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosoglu told Kerry on Saturday the government was in control of state institutions. Kerry reiterated US support for Turkey’s democratically elected government, according to the State Department readout, and urged authorities to respect the rule of law and safeguard civilian life as they respond to the coup attempt. Kerry also said Turkey needed to respect due process as it investigates those it believes were involved in the plot.
Earlier, on a visit to Luxembourg, Kerry told reporters the US would entertain an extradition request for Gulen if the Turks provided evidence of wrongdoing. “We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr Gulen,” Kerry told reporters. “And obviously we would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny. And the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgements about it appropriately.”
Gulen is understood to maintain significant support among some members of the military and mid-level bureaucrats. His movement called Hizmet includes think tanks, schools and various media enterprises. Gulen and Erdogan only became estranged in recent years.
A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations, said Turkey was preparing a formal extradition request with detailed information about Gulen’s involvement in illegal activities. He said the coup attempt was seen as “one more thing to add to an already extensive list”.
In a statement, Gulen said he condemned, “in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey” and sharply rejected any responsibility or knowledge of who might be involved.
At a news briefing on Saturday in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, the cleric noted that he has been away from Turkey for more than 15 years and would not have returned if the coup had succeeded. He cited greater freedoms in the United States as a reason. “In brief, I don’t even know who my followers are,” the frail-looking cleric said through an interpreter. “You can think about many motivations of people who staged this coup.”
The coup failed after appearing not to have been backed by the most senior ranks of the military. Turkey’s main opposition parties, too, condemned the attempted overthrow of the government.
Kerry said the US had no indication beforehand of the coup attempt, which began as he and Russia’s foreign minister were in a Russian government villa in Moscow, locked in negotiations over Syria. “If you’re planning a coup, you don’t exactly advertise to your partners in Nato,” Kerry said. “So it surprised everyone. It does not appear to be a very brilliantly planned or executed event.”—The Washington Post/AP
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2016
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