US delegation to visit Turkey for talks on Gulen

A US delegation will visit Turkey to discuss Turkish government accusations against Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed Saturday.

The spokesperson had no information on the timing of the delegation's visit or who would be in it, but said it would be representatives of the US Department of Justice and US State Department.

The Turkish government has accused Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, of plotting July's military coup. Gulen, a one-time ally turned rival of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, denies the charges that he plotted the attempted coup.

US Vice President Joe Biden is due to visit Turkey next week and meet with Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Wednesday to "reaffirm the strength of the US-Turkey alliance," the White House said Friday.

Turkey's prime minister said earlier Saturday he wanted the United States to place Gulen under "temporary arrest" ahead of Biden's visit.

A senior US official told reporters in Washington on Friday that Turkey so far only has requested Gulen's return on criminal charges not related to the coup.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted the extradition process can be slow. as Turkey has expressed frustration that Washington has not yet sent back the preacher.

The US also has dismissed conspiracy theories circulating in pro-government media outlets in Turkey that Washington had anything to do with the coup plan.

Yildirim, speaking with reporters in Istanbul, describe the relationship with the US at the moment as "moderate" but reasserted the US remains a "strategic partner." 

Yildirim and the US official both said discussions about Gulen were expected to dominate Biden's visit. Since 2013 the government has accused the preacher of running a "parallel state" and seeking to overthrow Erdogan.

Critics of the government note that Erdogan allowed Gulen's followers to gain footholds in the state bureaucracy, using them to its advantage. Since the coup attempt, Turkey has suspended or fired more than 80,000 civil servants and arrested 20,000 people.

The US and Turkey will also discuss the situation in Syria, where the US is backing Kurdish-led forces in the war against Islamic State.

Turkey is wary of Kurdish gains, fearing it could stoke nationalist sentiment among its own Kurdish minority and often has been reluctant to support US efforts in Syria to curtail the extremist group.

Yildirim also told reporters Turkey was opposed to dividing neighbouring Syria along ethnic lines.

Biden's visit comes as Erdogan recently went to Russia to mend ties with Moscow, his first trip abroad since the coup. Ankara officials say there is no plan for NATO member Turkey to pivot away from the West. 

Last update: Sat, 20/08/2016 - 22:58

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