Visiting a vital ally at a delicate time, Vice President Joseph R. Biden tried to soothe anger in Turkey on Wednesday over the Obama administration’s refusal to quickly extradite a Muslim cleric whom Ankara blames for a coup attempt last month.
“We will continue to abide by the system and, God willing, there will be enough data and evidence to be able to meet the criteria that you all believe exist,” Mr. Biden said in a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We have no reason to shelter someone who would attack an ally and try to overthrow a democracy.”
But the extradition battle over Fethullah Gulen, a powerful cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania, was just one of a series of knotty issues between the NATO allies.
Mr. Biden made the highest-level visit by a U.S. official to Ankara since the abortive coup as Turkish forces were launching a major military operation against Islamic State forces in northern Syria. The U.S. has been pressuring Turkey to contribute more to the fight across the border.
Turkish tanks and other military vehicles rolled across the Syrian border around the town of Jarablus after heavy shelling of an area held by the Islamic State. Turkish-backed Syrian rebels were reportedly advancing on the town in a fight against extremists and Kurdish fighters.
A senior administration official said Mr. Biden’s trip is intended “to make sure our alliance remains rock-solid and relations get back on track” because the U.S. needs Turkey’s help in fighting the Islamic State and dealing with the civil war in Syria. The aide said the relationship is strained but is “not on the brink of a rupture.”
Mr. Biden said he wished Mr. Gulen “were in another country, not in the U.S.”
The Erdogan government accuses the cleric of encouraging the coup attempt through activities online with rebel troops. Mr. Gulen has denied any role in the plot, but Ankara has been cracking down on many of his supporters in Turkey.
Mr. Erdogan said Washington had “no excuse” for shielding Mr. Gulen.
“For us, the priority is the extradition of Gulen as soon as possible,” Mr. Erdogan said in a joint press conference with Mr. Biden. “But the agreement between the United States and Turkey requires the detention of such people. This individual continues to manage a terrorist organization from where he is.”
Fighting during the failed coup killed 241 people, and destruction was still evident as Mr. Biden toured the parliament building in Ankara.
At a separate press conference, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim demanded that the Obama administration return the cleric to Turkey to face charges as a traitor.
“This heinous coup attempt was, in our opinion, orchestrated and instructed by Fethullah Gulen,” the prime minister said. “The process of extraditing, if it can be expedited and accelerated, I think the grief of the Turkish people will be remedied to a certain degree.”
Mr. Biden, the top Western official to visit Turkey since the July 15 coup attempt, said the administration has no interest in harboring anyone who harms an ally but cautioned that the U.S. must adhere to legal procedures for extradition cases.
“I understand the intense feeling your government and the people of Turkey have about him,” Mr. Biden told the prime minister. “We have no, no, no interest whatsoever in protecting anyone who has done harm to an ally, but we need to meet legal standard requirement under our law.”
The vice president said extradition “always takes time and [is] never understood by your or our people, why the wheels of justice move deliberately and slowly.”
He said it’s “totally understandable why the people of Turkey are angry.”
Many Turks believe the U.S. was complicit in the attempt to overthrow the government.
As Mr. Biden traveled in the capital city, a demonstrator along the route held up a sign proclaiming in broken English, “What if [Osama bin] Laden be in Turkey and we wouldn’t give him you after 9/11?”
Adding to the furor, an Istanbul-based college professor accused by the Turkish government of coordinating the coup attempt is at the center of a group of suspicious 2014 contributions to a super PAC supporting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, USA Today reported Wednesday.
Adil Oksuz, the subject of a massive manhunt in Turkey, made a $5,000 donation to the Ready for Hillary PAC through an apparently fictitious company, the paper reported.
Mr. Biden said he wanted to “ease any speculation” about a U.S. role in the coup attempt.
“The United States of America did not have any foreknowledge of what befell you,” the vice president said. “The people of the United States of America abhor what happened and under no circumstances would support anything remotely approaching the cowardly act of the treasonous members of the military.”
Mr. Biden also toured damage at the Turkish parliament, where he saw broken windows, buckled columns and charred earth from airstrikes during the attempted coup.
“This is devastating. Can you imagine if this happened at home?” Mr. Biden said to reporters. “Can you imagine what the American public would be saying or doing?”
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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