Vice President Biden Uses Turkey Visit to Try to Ease Tensions

The vice president arrives amid heightened tensions with the key NATO ally.

— -- In a visit to Ankara, Turkey, today, Vice President Joe Biden sought to ease heightened tensions with Turkey as the country continues to recover from a failed coup attempt last month.

In a press conference alongside Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Biden offered a message of solidarity and understanding while pushing back against some in the Turkish government who have assigned complicity to the U.S. in the coup attempt.

At the same time, Biden said he understands the “intense feeling” against U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish government has accused of orchestrating the coup.

We have “no interest whatsoever in protecting anyone who has done harm to an ally,” Biden said. “But we need to meet legal standard requirement under our law,” adding that it would be an “impeachable offense” for President Obama to deliver Gulen without going through the U.S. justice system.

Yildirim said that while some Turkish people might feel Washington had supported the coup attempt, that is not the official position of his government.

A senior U.S. administration official previewing Biden's visit said the Turks have submitted four separate extradition requests for Gulen but that none were related to his direct involvement in the coup.

Still, the Department of Justice has more lawyers handling the requests than any recent extradition case, according to the official.

As for the Turkish crackdown on dissenters following the coup and concerns raised among human rights groups, Biden said he remembered the confusion in the U.S. following 9/11 and it was important to “give [the Turkish government] time” to recover.

Biden also commented on the ongoing Turkish military operation into Syria, telling Syrian Kurdish forces they “must move back across the Euphrates River” if they hope to continue to receive U.S. support. While the comments were received positively from Yildirim, they immediately stoked anger among U.S.-backed Kurdish allies in the region.

Biden started his day in Ankara with a tour of the Turkish Parliament building that was damaged by airstrikes during the failed coup attempt.

Turkish Speaker of Parliament, Ismail Kahraman, gave Biden the tour, surveying damage to the building’s exterior that, at parts, included the very foundation.

“This is devastating. Can you imagine if this happened at home?” Biden said to reporters. “Can you imagine what the American public would be saying or doing?"

He compared the damage to what might have happened on 9/11 if United Airlines Flight 93 had made it to the U.S. Capitol instead of crashing in Pennsylvania.