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Biden Pledges 'Unwavering Support' For Turkey's Democracy

August 24, 2016

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says Washington puts "paramount importance" on its relations with Turkey and is offering "unwavering support" for democracy in the country after the failed July military coup there.

Biden made the remarks to journalists in Ankara on August 24 after meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

Biden was scheduled to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later on August 24.

Erdogan said earlier in the day that he will push Biden to honor Turkey's request for the extradition of the exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen -- who is accused by Ankara of orchestrating the attempted coup. Gulen denies any role in the coup.

Biden confirmed that the United States has received Turkey's request for Gulen's extradition, but noted that the evidence presented in the request was related to events before the July 15 coup.

The U.S. vice president said Washington understands the "intense feeling" in Ankara about Gulen following the coup, and that the United States has no interest in protecting anyone who has harmed a U.S. ally. But he insisted that legal standards must be met in regard to the extradition request.

He said the United States "did not have any prior knowledge" of the coup and described the plotters' actions as "treasonous" and "cowardly."

Yildirim said after his talks with Biden that he expects the legal process on the extradition to be conducted without delay.

Turkey's Justice Ministry said an extradition request with evidence related to Ankara's claims that Gulen was behind the attempted coup would "probably" be submitted to Washington next week.

Combating Islamic State

Biden also said on August 24 that he spoke with Yildirim about progress their countries have made in the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants in neighboring Syria since the attempted coup.

He said the use by the United States of the Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey "remains the lynchpin" for carrying out air strikes against IS in Syria.

He also praised Turkey for hosting 3 million refugees that have fled the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, noting that the effort has placed an enormous burden on Turkey.

Biden arrived in Ankara just hours after Turkish forces, supported by U.S. air strikes, launched a military offensive against IS militants in northern Syria.

Turkish tanks and armored personnel carriers crossed the border into a part of northern Syria that has been under the control of IS militants since July 2013.

Ankara-based Syrian rebels from the Free Syrian Army also were taking part in the operation and reportedly advanced into the Syrian border town of Jarablus during the early afternoon.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu vowed that the "cleansing" of Jarablus would mark a turning point in the fight against IS.

Syria's government described the military incursion as a "blatant violation" of Syrian sovereignty and demanded an end to what it said was "aggression" being carried out under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

Damascus said in a statement that "any move to combat terrorism on Syrian territories should have been coordinated with the Syrian government and army."

It said: "Fighting terrorism cannot be undertaken by ousting [IS]...and replacing it with other terrorist organizations directly backed by Turkey."

Kurdish Fighters

Another issue expected to be discussed during Biden's talks with Erdogan was the role in the fight against IS militants that Syrian Kurdish fighters should have.

Washington supports Syrian Kurdish fighters from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and sees them as vital to the U.S.-led coalition's strategy of combating IS militants.

But Ankara accuses the PYD of being aligned with Turkish Kurdish rebels from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

After reports that Turkey was firing artillery at Syrian Kurdish fighters on August 24, PYD leader Salih Muslim called the action a "declaration of war."

Muslim said Turkey had entered "the Syrian quagmire" and would be defeated along with IS militants.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said on August 24 that Syrian Kurdish fighters must return to the eastern side of the Euphrates River or Turkish military forces would "do what is necessary."

Biden agreed, saying, "We have made it absolutely clear...that they [pro-Kurdish forces] must go back across the river. They cannot, will not and under no circumstances get American support if they do not keep that commitment. Period."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Anadolu

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/biden-turkey-u-s- support-democracy/27943691.html

Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.



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