Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım criticized the administration of the U.S. President Donald Trump for asking for more evidence to extradite the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, the alleged mastermind of the July 15,2016, failed coup attempt.
In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, the prime minister was asked about whether Ankara expected Washington to extradite Gülen when former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn wrote an article defending to do so.
“We expected that this would happen, but as time went by, we saw that there wasn’t any signal regarding an extradition taking place,” Yıldırım told Zakaria, denying allegations that Flynn assured Turkish authorities that Gülen would be sent to Turkey.
“We are not dealing with Michael Flynn, we are dealing with the government of the United States,” he also said, adding that the Turkish Justice Ministry was and still is in communication with the U.S. Attorney General to establish progress on Gülen’s extradition.
Yıldırım was also asked about claims that the files sent by Turkey for the extradition are “not conclusive and strong,” to which he replied by saying that the U.S. wasn’t asked for more evidence regarding al-Qaeda being behind the September 11 attacks.
“When President [George] Bush announced that the U.S. was under attack, Turkey was the first country to offer help and send its army to Afghanistan. We didn’t ask who was behind the attack. The U.S. said, ‘al-Qaeda is behind the attack and is responsible.’ Nobody asked the U.S., ‘Is there any evidence that al-Qaeda did so?’” he added.
Earlier this week, Yıldırım gave a speech at a meeting with U.S. press members during an official trip to the U.S., where he also talked about Washington’s stance on the thwarted coup.
When asked whether the U.S. was involved in last year’s July 15 coup attempt, Yıldırım said there was a “prevalent opinion” among Turkish people that the U.S. was behind it, in particular because the U.S. had not taken any steps regarding Gülen.
“We [the government] did not establish this opinion,” he stressed. “What this July 15 coup attempt means to us is the same thing as what September 11 means to the U.S. We expect more steps from the U.S. administration in this regard,” Yıldırım told the meeting held at the residence of the Turkish Ambassador to Washington.
“Just like we supported the U.S. after September 11, now we expect the same after July 15. Did the U.S. request any documents in order to search and find Osama bin Laden?” Yıldırm said, referring to the “85 boxes of files” Turkey had sent to the U.S. regarding Gülen’s link with the coup attempt.
However, the documents “have yet to be looked at,” Yıldırım said. “They are just beating around the bush. They need to explain this.”
“Let me be honest. If the U.S. does not take any steps about Gülen, our relations will not improve,” the premier added, calling an ally’s “implicit protection of the leader of a terror organization” the “biggest threat” to bilateral relations.
In the same meeting, Yıldırım said that Turkey and the U.S. should highlight areas of agreement and repair their relationship instead of focusing on disagreements.
“The deterioration of relations between Turkey and the United States not only affects the two countries, but it also affects global peace, and turns the issues in our region into a threat,” he said.
Pointing out the recent strained ties between Washington and Ankara, Yıldırım said that not only the relations between both countries but Turkey’s immediate region, in particular Syria and Iraq, were also going through a difficult period.
“Turkey and the U.S. have a very long history. Even if the relations may get strained from time to time, common sense prevails in the end and a solution is found,” Yıldırım said, adding that Turkey and the U.S. could make “a fresh start.”
Recalling his meeting with the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, on the first day of his U.S. trip, Yıldırım said relations need to be improved not only at the level of American administration but also at the level of Congress.
“Parliamentary visits can be increased in this regard. We could also accelerate work toward reducing some prejudices of Congress members regarding Turkey,” he added.
When asked about Turkey’s stance on the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria, Yıldırm said U.S. officials told Turkey that arming the groups was not a matter of “preference but a necessity” and that they “have to engage in a short-term cooperation in order to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL].”
Yıldırım said the ISIL threat was mostly over, and called on the U.S. to keep its promise and withdraw all its weapons and support from the group.
He warned that if this did not happen, then the threat against Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Israel would grow.
“These weapons must be taken back immediately. They are being used to kill innocent people. And this harms our relations with the U.S. You cannot establish peace in Syria with the YPG,” he said.
“The U.S. needs to make a decision pronto. We are faced with a more dangerous organization than ISIL. The U.S. gives these weapons for free too. Yet, it will not sell them to us. It is impossible to understand what kind of an alliance and friendship this is,” he added.
In response to a question on Turkey’s purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia, Yıldırım said they had no other choice.
“We wanted to get it from NATO member countries, but failed to get the necessary support from the U.S.,” Yıldırım said.
“The fact that we have entered such a defense cooperation with Russia does not diminish our obligations or significance as a NATO member. Quite the contrary, it enhances them. We have no intention of giving up on NATO. We needed to move toward such a cooperation with Russia just to obliterate the threats against Turkey in the short term,” he added.
Yıldırım highlighted that Syria had become a place where some countries “test their new weapons” and that Turkey was not able to destroy 71 missiles fired on Turkish soil from there.
“We have lost 29 civilians because of those missiles. We must protect our land,” he said, adding the S-400 missiles were being purchased for defense reasons, not offense.
“The U.S. and NATO countries should carefully consider why we have had to resort to this path,” he said.