Erdoğan’s claims about Gülen stun US Ambassador Ricciardone

Ali Halit Aslan
Ali Halit Aslan


Date posted: March 7, 2014

ALİ H. ASLAN

On Thursday evening, Ambassador Namık Tan, who has been appointed to Ankara, hosted Turkish and American guests at a goodbye reception at a historic residence of Turkey’s Washington Embassy.

The attendees have come from different circles and they are high-level people. Among them is Karen Donfried, US President Obama’s senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council (NSC). The Turkish food, being served by Tan’s wife Fügen Tan, is delicious as always. But what is being discussed among the participants has ruined any enjoyment in the meal. The talk eventually comes to the latest series of political scandals in Turkey.

All of a sudden, my eyes glance over at US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone. He, along with his colleagues in other European countries, came to Washington for routine talks. And Ricciardone was courteous enough to drop in at Ambassador Tan’s reception. The freshest topic at the reception is what Prime Minister Erdoğan had said during an ATV network interview about his conversation with Obama on Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. In a hope to get a comment from him, I approach Ambassador Ricciardone. After mutual greetings, I show him excerpts of Erdoğan’s ATV statement from my smartphone. The prime minister had said: “I discussed these issues with the esteemed Obama. I am hopeful. I said what was necessary. I said, ‘The person who is at the root of unhappiness in my country is in your country.’ I said, ‘He is in Pennsylvania.’ I said it very clearly. And I said, ‘I am expecting you to do what is necessary; you should [have] the right attitude if the men who threaten the internal security of my country are residing in your country.’ And I said, ‘I have the right to demand the extradition of some men as you do for men who threaten the internal security of the US.’ I openly gave these messages to Obama. And he looked at them positively. I mean, he said he ‘got the message’.”

Ambassador Ricciardone, who can understand Turkish very well, cannot believe his eyes after reading the text. I told him that my source is trustworthy. It was worth seeing his body language in this moment. I insisted that he make a comment, but he avoided making one. There was a retired American diplomat next to us. He said, “The ambassador needn’t make a comment. His body language has already expressed his thoughts.” The ambassador had really looking totally stunned as if saying, “My God, how can the Turkish prime minister say all this?”

No one in Washington denies that Erdoğan, during a phone conversation with Obama, demanded the extradition of Gülen to Turkey. But what has surprised Americans is that the prime minister is keeping the extradition issue on the national agenda, even though US authorities have told him that the extradition demand is not a good idea and that the Turkish government would not be able to get what it wished. What is more surprising is the prime minister’s claim that Obama is warm to the demand for extradition. Americans cannot believe how the Turkish prime minister sought to misinform his people about a conversation he had with the US president.

According to some Washington sources who spoke to Today’s Zaman, when Erdoğan raised the subject of Gülen, Obama clearly said, “We do not want to be involved in this issue.” But the Turkish prime minister kept up his complaints. And when he finished talking, the US president said something like, “I got your message.” Observers in Washington do not see Obama’s remarks as a “green light” for the extradition of Gülen. The fact that Prime Minister Erdoğan keeps bringing up the Gülen issue and is even claiming that Obama is open to the scholar’s extradition is very disturbing for the US administration.

The Obama administration has stressed on various occasions that developments related to scandals that went public on Dec. 17, 2013, are an internal matter for Turkey and that the US will not become a party in it. The fact that the Turkish prime minister keeps working to drag the US into the matter is making more and more Americans regret Obama made a phone conversation with Erdoğan.

Gülen has a permanent residence permit to live in the US. According to related conventions between Turkey and the US, a Turkish citizen who has a residence permit in the US cannot be extradited to Turkey unless he commits what the US considers a crime. And he cannot be extradited, either, if that crime is considered a “political” one. In addition, even if the White House is open to an extradition, US courts are not welcoming of demands for extradition by countries that lack a fair trial system. In short, the extradition of Gülen from the US to Turkey is nearly impossible — both legally and politically.

The same issue was also brought up at a seminar organized by a think tank last week. A retired US ambassador, who closely follows events in Turkey, said a demand for Gülen’s extradition would be found “laughable” in Washington. He added that he finds it hard to understand how the Turkish government can take such an issue seriously. Ankara authorities either do not know how the US state and judicial systems work, or they are pretending not to know. In case he fails to receive a positive response from the US for his demand for Gülen’s extradition, the prime minister probably is planning to launch another alleged smear campaign against the Hizmet movement, claiming that it is “under the auspices of the US.” In this way, he will try to garner a few extra votes from Turkish voters.

OK, but will making relations with the US administration a tool for internal politics not damage Turkey’s national interests? Will it not deal a blow to Turkey’s prestige? It will, for sure, but who cares?

Source: Todays Zaman , March 7, 2014


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