Turkey, Politics

Turkish PM denies working with former US security aide

Binali Yildirim in CNN interview says Turkey in talks with US government for extradition of coup attempt's mastermind

Turkish PM denies working with former US security aide Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim

By Ahmet Sait Akcay & Burcu Arik


Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has denied Turkey's involvement in an alleged plan involving former U.S security adviser Michael Flynn to kidnap U.S.-based Fetullah Gulen, the leader of Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) behind last year's coup attempt.

In an interview with popular television host Fareed Zakaria on CNN International, Yildirim said Turkey was expecting the White House to extradite Gulen.

However, "we see that there is no signal [through] which extradition will occur," said Yildirim, speaking in English.

When asked if Flynn had given any assurances to Turkey, Yildirim said: "No, we are not dealing with Michael Flynn, we are dealing with the government of United States."

Flynn had publicly supported Gulen's extradition in an op-ed published on The Hill -- a U.S. political website -- on Nov. 8, the U.S. presidential election day, according to Zakaria.

Yildirim said the Turkish justice minister was in contact with his U.S. counterpart regarding Turkey's extradition request. "They were in communication. They are still in communication to provide some progress on that matter."

He compared the defeated coup attempt in Turkey to the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, adding that Turkey was the first country to offer help and send its army to Afghanistan to fight the U.S. war on terror.

"We didn't ask who was behind this. The United States said this is Al-Qaeda behind of this attack and Al-Qaeda is responsible. Nobody asked the United States is there any evidence that Al-Qaeda did so," he said.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal claimed in a story that investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller on an investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S election had found out that Flynn had met with Turkish representatives twice last year.

According to the story, the latest meeting with Turkish officials took place last December, weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration, in which Flynn and his son Michael Flynn Jr. were offered $15 million to kidnap Gulen from his multimillion-dollar complex in Pennsylvania. 

Previously, the paper had reported about a meeting on Sept. 19, 2016 in which Flynn and two Turkish businessmen discussed ways to deliver Gulen to Turkey without going through legal procedures in the U.S. 

The WSJ based its story regarding the December meeting on sources familiar with the investigation without mentioning their identity.

Flynn’s top attorney in a statement on Friday called the allegations "outrageous" and "false". 

Flynn, who only lasted 24 days as Trump's national security adviser, has been a key figure in Mueller’s Russia investigation. 

FETO and its leader Gulen orchestrated the July 15, 2016 attempted coup, which left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.

Rejecting claims that Turkish democracy has weakened, Yildirim accused the FETO group and its leader of carrying anti-Turkey lobbying.

“This is a perception rather than reality," Yildirim said. 

Turkey's EU membership 

Yildirim reaffirmed Turkey's commitment to becoming a member of the European Union.

"We want to be a member of the EU, but the EU should decide which direction they want to go," he said.

Stating that the bloc had to define their vision "whether they will expand their area or go on as a Christian club".

The premier said Turkey was geographically and culturally European. "We have been merging two cultures, two civilizations for centuries, so we are a European country as well as an Asian country."

Turkey applied for membership in the European Economic Community (a precursor to the EU) in 1987. It became eligible for EU membership in 1997 and accession talks began in 2005.

To gain membership, Turkey has to successfully conclude negotiations with the EU in 35 policy chapters that involve reforms and the adoption of European standards.

However, the country's EU membership negotiations reached a stalemate in 2007 due to the Cyprus issue and the opposition of several EU governments to Ankara’s full membership.

Ties between Ankara and European capitals have also been strained since the defeated coup attempt in Turkey last year as Turkish leaders slammed European countries for failing to show strong solidarity with the government against the attempted military takeover.

Turkish politicians have also criticized Germany and several other European countries for turning a blind eye to outlawed groups and terrorist organizations hostile to Turkey.

Trump policy on Iran

Regarding Donald Trump's wish to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, Yildirim said he was aware of the U.S. president's eagerness to confront Tehran.

"They want to eliminate and erase the agreement. I think this is not possible legally, because this is not bilateral agreement, a multilateral agreement. The other parties should be involved. The Europeans have already expressed that they are not going to do so," Yildirim said. 

He said Iran and Turkey had been neighbors for centuries and that no war between had opposed them in the last 500 years.

"Now, we as Turkey, our position is very clear. We say that no religious sect being exported in the region is good for the stability and security, peace of the region.

"The Shia sect spreading around the region is a big danger for the region. Once this religious war is started nobody can guess when it is going to end," he added. "That's why we time to time friendly inform and warn our neighbor Iran too not encouraging these kinds of activities," Yildirim said. 

Regional peace and security

The Turkish prime minister said the U.S. was trying to form a new a coalition in the region.

"It is no secret that Saudi Arabia's relation with Iran has not been good for a long time. [In addition], other small countries also are coming together; they first formed an alliance against Qatar," he said regarding the conflict that erupted in June between Qatar and Gulf countries -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the U.A.E., and Bahrain. 

The four states accuse Qatar of supporting terrorist groups -- allegations Doha denies, describing the embargo as a breach of its national sovereignty.

"I think these kind of things are so dangerous you know we have already plenty of problems in the region," Yildirim said, citing the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Iraq as well as the fight against Daesh and PKK/PYD/YPG.

They [PKK/PYD/YPG] are very much a headache to Turkey. Plus the U.S. works with these terrorist organizations to defeat Daesh," Yildirim said. "The consequence of these cooperations does not help establish peace and stability in the region."

The Turkish government considers the PYD/YPG to be the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, a designated terrorist organization by Turkey and the U.S

The PKK has killed more than 1,200 Turkish security personnel and civilians since July 2015.

Yet despite the PKK’s terrorist activities, the U.S. has continued to support the PYD and YPG in the fight against Daesh.

'Turkey blocks terror activities'

The prime minister reminded Fareed Zakaria that 3.5 million refugees had been hosted in Turkey for more than six years.

"We host them, we educate them. We provide shelter for them. So this is a big problem for us," he said. "We always open up our border to welcome them."

"If we have a new threat in the region who is going to pay for it. That's why we are worried about it," Yildirim said.

"Turkey is playing a very important role to block all kinds of terror activities [and prevent them from] spreading to Europe or overseas. This has to be appreciated," he added.

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