Saturday, July 23, 2016

Obama to Erdogan: rumors swirling around threaten what is a critical alliance

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                                       July 22, 2016


The East Room

Juliet Eilperin.

Q    President Obama, given the fact that the government of Turkey is asking for the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, how are you weighing that decision?  How do you view allegations that he helped foment the recent coup, and that Turkish intelligence officials have said that they believe U.S. intelligence services had direct knowledge of the coup’s planning? 

Also, with the detention of more than 10,000 Turks, the firing of thousands more, and a ban on overseas travel by academics there, at what point do you need to speak out more forcefully about these tactics?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  So, Juliet, first of all, I had a chance to talk to President Erdogan this week and reiterated what we said from the earliest reports that a coup was being attempted in Turkey, and that is that we strongly reject any attempt to overthrow democracy in Turkey, that we support the democratically elected government there. 

And I think one of the signs of great strength in the Turkish people was the fact that even strong opponents of President Erdogan -- when reports of the coup were taking place and when it was still uncertain who exactly was behind it -- even opponents of President Erdogan pushed back hard against the idea that the military should overthrow a democratically elected government.

Any reports that we had any previous knowledge of a coup attempt, that there was any U.S. involvement in it, that we were anything other than entirely supportive of Turkish democracy are completely false.  Unequivocally false.  And I said that to President Erdogan.  And I also said to him that he needs to make sure that not just he but everybody in his government understand that those reports are completely false.  Because when rumors like that start swirling around, that puts our people at risk on the ground in Turkey, and it threatens what is a critical alliance and partnership between the United States and Turkey.

So I want to be as clear and unequivocal as I can be:  We deplore the attempted coup.  We said so earlier than just about anybody and have been consistent throughout that the Turkish people deserve a government that was democratically elected.

Now, what is true is, is that President Erdogan and Turkey have a strong belief that Mr. Gülen, here in -- who is in Pennsylvania, a legal resident of the United States, is somehow behind some of these efforts.  And what I said to President Erdogan is the same thing that I would say to you and anybody else who asks, which is we have a process here in the United States for dealing with extradition requests made by foreign governments.  And it’s governed by treaties and it’s governed by laws.  And it is not a decision that I make, but rather a decision that our Justice Department and investigators and courts make, alongside my administration, in a very well-structured and well-established process. 

So I told President Erdogan that they should present us with evidence that they think indicates the involvement of Mr. Gülen, or anybody else who is here in the United States, and it would be processed the way that it is always processed, and that we would certainly take any allegations like this seriously.  But America is governed by rules of law, and those are not ones that the President of the United States or anybody else can just set aside for the sake of expediency.  Even when we are deeply supportive of Turkish democracy, and even when we care deeply about any attempts to overthrow their government or any other illegal actions, we've got to go through a legal process.

     Finally, with respect to what's happening in the aftermath of the coup attempt, in my conversations with President Erdogan, I think in statements by John Kerry and others, what we have indicated is our strong belief and hope that as the dust settles there is not a overreaction that could in some fashion lead to a curtailment of civil liberties, or a weakening of the ability of legitimate opposition or journalists, through legal processes, to voice their concerns and to petition their government, and that the United States, as a friend and partner of Turkey, and me personally, as somebody who has worked with President Erdogan for a long time now, would encourage that the manner in which this coup is investigated and people are held accountable and justice is done is consistent with rule of law and the basic freedoms that I think the Turkish people have fought for and defended. 

     And obviously, we can't discount how scary and shaken not just the Turkish government is but Turkish society is.  Imagine if you had some runt group of military officials here in the United States who started flying off with F-16s or other artillery and were taking shots at government buildings, and people were killed and injured -- people would be scared, and rightfully so.  But one of the challenges of a democratic government is making sure that even in the midst of emergencies and passions, we make sure that rule of law and the basic precepts of justice and liberty prevail.  And my hope is, is that is what will emerge.

     In the meantime, we will continue to work with Turkey, even as they try to stabilize the situation.  Our base at Incirlik, from which we are going after ISIL hard, is up and running again, and we continue to work with them to make sure that we don't lose momentum that we've built in terms of weakening ISIL's position in Syria and to try to strengthen the prospects for some resolution of that terrible conflict.

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