WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Friday denied any U.S. role in Turkey’s failed coup and insisted that an extradition request for a U.S.-based Muslim cleric accused of orchestrating the putsch would have to go through normal channels.
Obama, speaking at a news conference, said he told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a call earlier this week that the United States had no prior knowledge of the abortive coup.
“Any reports that we had any previous knowledge of a coup attempt, that there was any U.S. involvement in it, that we were anything other than entirely supportive of Turkish democracy are completely false, unequivocally false,” Obama said.
“He (Erdogan) needs to make sure that, not just he but everybody in his government, understands that those reports are completely false,” Obama added. “Because when rumors like that start swirling around, that puts our people at risk on the ground in Turkey and it threatens what is a critical alliance and partnership between the United States and Turkey.”
Reports of U.S. involvement in the coup attempt, which were also denied earlier this week by the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, appear to be partly fueled by the fact that cleric Fethullah Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.
Erdogan accuses Gulen, a charismatic former ally, of masterminding the plot against him. In a crackdown on Gulen’s suspected followers, more than 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended, detained or placed under investigation.
Gulen has condemned the attempted coup and denied any involvement in it.
Obama, reiterating what U.S. officials had said earlier this week, said he told Erdogan his government must first present evidence of Gulen’s alleged complicity in the failed coup. An extradition request would then receive the review required by the Justice Department and other government agencies just like any other petition.
“America’s governed by rules of law, and those are not ones that the president of the United States or anybody else can just set aside for the sake of expediency,” Obama said. “We’ve got to go through a legal process.”
Serdar Kilic, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, told a news conference on Friday that his country had submitted the “necessary documentation” for Gulen’s extradition. But U.S. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said he could not yet give a “hard yes or no” on whether the materials submitted by Turkey constituted a formal extradition request.
Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy and Julia Harte; Editing by Tom Brown