- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2018

Turkey’s top diplomat claimed Sunday that President Trump has assured Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that Washington is working on extraditing U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the failed 2016 coup in Turkey.

Despite a public assertion by Mr. Trump last month that a Gulen extradition is “not under consideration,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed Mr. Trump privately discussed the matter with Mr. Erdogan on the sidelines of the recent G20 summit in Argentina.

“In Argentina, Trump told Erdogan they were working on extraditing Gulen and other people,” Mr. Cavusoglu said in remarks at a conference Sunday in Qatar, according to Reuters.

U.S.-Turkey tension over Mr. Gulen has been brewing for years. A former ally of Mr. Erdogan, the Muslim cleric has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for nearly two decades.

Turkish authorities arrested thousands of alleged Gulen supporters in Turkey two years ago, claiming they were behind the failed coup against Mr. Erdogan’s government at the time. Ankara also demanded Washington extradite the cleric, alleging he had directed the coup from inside the United States.

Mr. Gulen had denied the allegations and the Trump administration has so far not yielded to the Turkish pressure.

Mr. Trump dismissed reports last month that he was weighing the matter to appease Mr. Erdogan in the wake of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death in Istanbul.

With Turkish-Saudi tensions soaring amid Turkey’s claim that a Saudi government hit squad had murdered Mr. Khashoggi, an NBC News report said Mr. Trump was considering extraditing Mr. Gulen to “placate” Mr. Erdogan and convince Turkey to ease pressure on Saudi Arabia.

But when asked about the report on Nov. 17, Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House that such a move was “not under consideration.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, said in October that he had spoken with Turkish officials about Mr. Gulen, but gave no indication of possible movement on Turkey’s extradition request. “It’s something that the Turks remind us of often,” Mr. Pompeo said at the time.

With that as a backdrop, Mr. Erdogan made headlines last week by saying Turkey is opening a new international push to investigate financing of organizations it claims are tied to Mr. Gulen.

According to the Reuters report on Mr. Cavusoglu’s remarks in Qatar on Sunday, the Turkish foreign minister said he has “recently seen a credible probe by the FBI on how the Gulen organization avoids taxes.”

Mr. Cavusoglu’s separate claim that Mr. Trump had assured Mr. Erdogan that Washington is “working on” extraditing Mr. Gulen triggered a quick and sharp reaction from administration critics on Sunday.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., New Jersey Democrat, circulated a statement denouncing what he characterized as a “duplicitous” Trump “scheme” to extradite Mr. Gulen.

“Donald Trump continues to show his affinity for strongmen and his disdain for the rule of law and human rights,” Mr. Pascrell said. “As a political dissident facing religious persecution and retaliation in his home country, Mr. Gulen does not deserve to be a pawn in Trump’s attempts to cover up the murder of a U.S. resident for the increasingly lawless Saudi royal family. To Trump, America’s protection of our values is always negotiable.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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