Standing at the side of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during an Ankara press conference today, Vice President Joe Biden tried to soothe relations with the Islamist government by slamming last month’s coup attempt as “a violent betrayal by a small group of folks who were sworn to defend the very people that they say they care and love.”
“The attempted coup went to the heart of who your people are — principled, courageous and committed. And for a people who have struggled so long to establish a true democracy, this was, from my perspective and the president’s perspective, the ultimate affront. So my heart goes out to not just the government, but to the Turkish people,” Biden said.
Biden added it’s “hard for Americans to picture the possibility” of the military trying to overthrow the U.S. government “when they thought the president was on vacation with his family.”
The vice president toured damage to Turkey’s parliament left from the coup attempt.
“I can understand, Mr. President, how some of your countrymen would feel that the world didn’t respond to the existential crisis your country was facing rapidly enough, or with the appropriate amount of solidarity and compassion and empathy,” he continued. “And that’s why, Mr. President — you’ve known me for a while — that’s why I wanted to personally be here, and was asked by the President to personally be here to represent, to tell you and all of your colleagues and your countrymen how very, very, very sorry I am, the president is, the American people are for the suffering and loss you have endured.”
Biden added that “the American people also stand in awe of the way your countrymen respond to the way you respond personally — going on the Internet through, my guess is on Facebook — I’m not sure which vehicle you used — with a portable — or with a cellphone, telling your people to rise up, take back the street, do not let these terrorists, which is what they ended up being, steal their patronage, their — who they are.”
Erdoğan used Facetime during the coup attempt, filming from an unknown location, telling Turks to get into the streets and oppose the coup.
Erdoğan’s purge since the coup attempt has included basically any secular opponent to his Islamist government: more than 40,000 people have been rounded up, from soldiers to jurists to bankers and even teachers and a comedian. Human rights groups have charged that the rule of law has gone out the window as detainees have been kept in makeshift facilities without proper access to legal representation and suffering beatings, rapes and starvation. Erdoğan has also intensified his battle against the free press.
He has also demanded that the U.S. government extradite Fethullah Gülen, a onetime ally of Erdoğan turned opponent who lives in Saylorsburg, Pa.
A senior administration official told reporters this week that Turkey has filed four extradition requests, but none of the charges are coup-related.
“I personally, the president personally, the American people stand in awe of the courage of your people,” Biden gushed during the press conference. “And we understand, Mr. President, the sensitivities the Turkish people feel about international security. That’s why the United States is committed to doing everything we can to help bring justice for all those responsible for this coup attempt while adhering to the rule of law.”
On the extradition request, Biden said he knows “of no other case where as much time is being spent to make sure we find enough data to meet a court standing.”
“I suspect it’s hard for people to understand that as powerful as my country is, as powerful as Barack Obama is as president, he has no authority under our Constitution to extradite anyone. Only a federal court can do that. Nobody else can do that. If the president were to take this into his own hands, what would happen would be he would be impeached for violating the separation of powers,” he added.
Erdoğan said he and Biden “had the opportunity to discuss this failed coup at every extent possible,” once again calling Gülen’s progressive Islam movement a “terrorist organization” and stressing that Gülen “needs to be extradited to Turkey as soon as possible.”
He also demanded that U.S. authorities arrest and detain Gülen and his associates while considering the extradition request, and “I’m confident that the United States will take the necessary measures to cater to our expectations in that regard.”
Erdoğan also snapped at a reporter for using the term Islamic State during a question. “The Islamic State cannot be associated with terrorism. Daesh is a terrorist organization,” he said, using the pejorative Arabic acronym for ISIS. “They are terrorists. Islam is a derivative of the word ‘peace,’ or the prefix ‘peace’ stands for Islam, which is a derivative of Islam. A member of the Islamic faith can never engage in these massacres, in this carnage.”