November 16, 2018 / 8:27 AM / 25 days ago

Turkey says will not link fate of U.S.-based cleric to Khashoggi

FILE PHOTO: U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has ruled out any deal with the United States to scale down its investigation into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi if the U.S. expels a Muslim cleric who Ankara says was behind a failed coup two years ago.

NBC News reported on Thursday that the Trump administration was exploring ways to remove cleric Fethullah Gulen and persuade President Tayyip Erdogan to ease pressure on Saudi Arabia over the killing. The White House said the story was “not accurate”.

A senior Turkish official said the issues of Gulen’s extradition, which Turkey has long sought, and the investigation into who was behind Khashoggi’s killing at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate last month, were separate issues.

“At no point did Turkey offer to hold back on the Khashoggi investigation in return for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition,” the official said. “We have no intention to intervene in the Khashoggi investigation in return for any political or legal favor.”

Erdogan has said the order for Khashoggi’s killing came from the highest levels of the Saudi leadership. Washington on Thursday announced sanctions over the killings, targeting 17 Saudi officials but not the Riyadh government - an important U.S. security and economic ally.

Some Saudi commentators pointed to the NBC report as evidence that Turkey was trying to use Khashoggi’s killing for political gain.

“I never had any doubt that Turkey was trading with the blood of Jamal Khashoggi,” Abdulrahman al-Rashed, a prominent Saudi columnist, wrote on Twitter.

Erdogan has long demanded that Washington extradite Gulen, who denies any involvement in the attempted coup and has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. U.S. officials have said the courts need sufficient evidence to extradite the elderly cleric.

Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Daren Butler

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