VP Biden Visits Post-Coup Turkey

Photo Credit: Business Insider

On Wednesday, August 25th, 2016 Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Ankara to meet with Turkish officials and ease tensions between the United States and Turkey that arose last month after a failed coup attempt. Turkey’s request for the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating the coup and is currently based in the United States, has added to the tension. Additionally, President Obama reportedly will meet with Erdogan in China next week on the sidelines of the G20 Summit.

In Ankara, Biden met with several key members of the Turkish government and held a press conference alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Seeking to reassure Erdogan of U.S. support in the face of widespread Turkish anger over an alleged lack of a strong U.S. response to the coup, Biden said, “Let me say it for one last time: The American people stand with you […] Barack Obama was one of the first people you called. But I do apologize. I wish I could have been here earlier.”

Biden did not issue any public criticism of the vast crackdown unfolding in Turkey since the coup attempt or meet with opposition figures. An estimated 80,000 people have been suspended or fired from their jobs across various sectors. According to The Guardian, since July 15, Turkey “has ordered the closure of 102 media outlets, including 45 newspapers, 16 TV channels, three news agencies, 23 radio stations, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses,” while “arrest warrants have been issued for more than 100 journalists, and […] 48 have been arrested.” More than 2,300 journalists and media workers have lost their jobs. Universities have also been hit hard, as the Wall Street Journal suggests Erdogan is attempting to “remake” the country’s higher education institutions in his own image.

Regarding Turkey’s request to extradite Gulen, Biden said, “That’s why the United States is committed to doing everything we can to help through your justice hold all those responsible for this coup attempt while adhering to the rule of law. As I said earlier, even as we speak, our American experts are on the ground […] meeting with your people, closely coordinating with our Turkish counterparts to evaluate and gather the material with regard to Turkish requests to extradite Gulen, in accordance with our bilateral extradition treaty. We have more lawyers working on this case than any other extradition in recent history.”

President Erdogan offered a different opinion on how the extradition should proceed: “… between the United States and Turkey, there is a bilateral extradition treaty. And in light of this extradition treaty, those individuals should be taken into pretrial detention, they should be arrested, and throughout the trial they need to remain in custody. This person, however, is currently managing and directing the terrorist organization where he lives.”

As Patrick Markey notes, “Turkish officials have been incensed by the concerns expressed by Washington and European capitals about Ankara’s subsequent crackdown on suspected plotters, but what they perceive as indifference to the coup attempt itself. A weakening of the U.S.-Turkish alliance is a concern for the United States, which is counting on support from Turkey – which has NATO’s second-biggest military – in the battle against Islamic State.”

Ahead of the visit, the Washington Post editorial board urged Biden to “candidly tell his host that the United States did not instigate the coup and that it will not relinquish Mr. Gulen to a witchhunt. Mr. Erdogan may not want to hear it, but he also should be reminded that crushing the rule of law will dim Turkey’s prospects.