- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at the Obama administration and its European allies Tuesday, accusing the West of supporting terrorism and taking sides with coup plotters, and claiming that the attempted overthrow of his government by a portion of the military last month was scripted by foreign forces.

At a moment when many Western observers hoped Mr. Erdogan might be pushing to strengthen alliances after barely staving off a military coup, he appeared instead to be going out of his way to make enemies with a combative speech broadcast live from his palace in Ankara.

In addition to leveling harsh language at Washington, Mr. Erdogan lambasted the European Union and the London-based human rights advocacy group Amnesty International — slamming the latter for its charges that some of the thousands who were detained after the attempted coup have been tortured.

The Turkish government has a policy of “zero tolerance toward torture,” Mr. Erdogan said on live television in Turkey. He accused Amnesty of ignoring violence committed by those who carried out the attempted military coup against him on July 15.

While he said some soldiers detained in the coup attempt’s immediate aftermath may have been beaten during scuffles with pro-government forces, the Turkish president called on the rights group to visit sites attacked by the plotters to “see who did what to whom.”

His comments were the latest in the evolving fallout from the surprise attempt by Turkish military officials to overthrow Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, which critics describe as increasingly authoritarian and Islamist-leaning.

More than 230 people were killed as mutinous soldiers commandeered fighter jets, helicopters and tanks in a chaotic nighttime bid to seize power.

If those who carried out the coup attempt hadn’t been quickly and aggressively detained, they “would have been killed by our police,” Mr. Erdogan said in his speech.

While President Obama and other high-level administration officials have spoken out in support of Turkey’s democratically elected government, the statements of Mr. Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a dozen years, exposed a potentially deepening rift between Ankara and its Western allies.

Mr. Erdogan and many other Turks have voiced frustration over U.S. and European criticism of the crackdown by the AKP and its supporters and have accused the West of harboring greater concern for the rights of those who plotted the coup attempt than for the gravity of the threat to the democratically elected leader of a NATO member state.

Friction over U.S.-based cleric

Mr. Erdogan’s harshest remarks centered on the Obama administration’s unwillingness to immediately arrest and extradite a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who the Turkish president says masterminded the coup attempt.

The 75-year-old cleric Fethullah Gulen is a former Erdogan ally who has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since the late-1990s. Mr. Erdogan claimed Tuesday that U.S.-based charter schools serve as the main source of income Mr. Gulen’s network and seethed over Washington’s seeming ambivalence toward the situation.

“I’m calling on the United States: What kind of strategic partners are we that you can still host someone whose extradition I have asked for?” the Turkish president said. “This coup attempt has actors inside Turkey, but its script was written outside. Unfortunately, the West is supporting terrorism and stands by coup plotters.”

The Obama administration sought to downplay the rift with a key NATO ally, one on the front lines of the fight against Islamist terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

“President Erdogan, as the sovereign head of state of the government of Turkey, is certainly free to express his views and his frustrations as he sees fit,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby. “We respect his right to do that.”

He said Turkey remains a key partner in the war against the Islamic State terrorist group.

In the past year, U.S. fighter jets have relied on Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base to conduct strikes against the group in Syria and Iraq. Despite an appearance of tension Tuesday, Mr. Kirby said the base “remains open to U.S. aircraft.”

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had “good, constructive meetings” with Turkish officials during a visit to Turkey over the weekend, Mr. Kirby said.

Calls for Gulen’s arrest

Although Mr. Kirby and other Obama administration officials declined to discuss the matter in detail Tuesday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told CNN immediately after the coup attempt that Turkish officials would have to show clear evidence of Mr. Gulen’s involvement if they want U.S. courts to consider the cleric’s extradition. At the time, Mr. Kerry also dismissed as irresponsible any accusation that Washington played a role in the uprising.

Turkey’s justice minister on Tuesday submitted what officials said was a second request to Washington calling for Mr. Gulen’s apprehension. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag sent the document explaining why there was an urgent need for cleric’s arrest, citing in part fears that Mr. Gulen might leave for a third country.

The Erdogan government, meanwhile, has launched a sweeping crackdown on Mr. Gulen’s followers inside Turkey. Some 70,000 people have been suspended from their jobs on suspicion of being involved in the so-called Gulenist movement. Some say the president is using the coup as an excuse to settle old political scores.

In his remarks Tuesday, Mr. Erdogan said he was moving to restructure Turkey’s main intelligence service, which he suspected had come under the control of Gulenists ahead of the coup attempt.

Mr. Erdogan said the movement’s grip on the service known as the MIT resulted in a lack of intelligence provided to him during the run-up to the coup attempt. The MIT has already suspended 100 staff, and Mr. Erdogan has suggested bringing it under the control of the presidency.

Clash with the EU

On a separate front, Mr. Erdogan accused the European Union of not upholding its side of an agreement on migration, saying promised funds and visa-free travel for Turks in the EU had not been delivered.

The agreement was instrumental in stemming the flow of people heading from Turkey to the nearby Greek islands. Under the deal, migrants and refugees arriving on Greek islands from March 20 on faced deportation back to Turkey. Among incentives offered in return, Turkey would receive funding to help it care for refugees it is hosting, while its citizens would also be granted visa-free travel in the EU.

But plans to loosen visa rules in particular have run into trouble. The EU demands that Turkey fulfill a list of criteria — notably, amending its anti-terrorism laws. EU countries want to ensure that Turkey cannot use those laws to target academics and journalists.

“We are the ones who are protecting the European Union by sheltering 3 million Syrians and Iraqis,” Mr. Erdogan said.

“They still haven’t brought about their promises. They promised [$3.35 billion]; this money still hasn’t arrived. The visa issue still hasn’t been brought about.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Rheinische Post that Turkey must fulfill EU conditions before the bloc will lift visa requirements for Turkish citizens.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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