WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Friday denied prior knowledge or involvement by the U.S. in last week's failed coup attempt in Turkey, saying reports to the contrary are "unequivocally false."
Obama said he had made that clear to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when they spoke by telephone earlier this week. Obama said he also stressed to Erdogan that he ensure everyone in the Turkish government understands that any reports to the contrary are untrue. Diplomatic relations and the safety of Americans on the ground in Turkey could be at risk otherwise, the president said.
"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 during a joint appearance at the White House with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
"And I said that to President Erdogan. And I also said to him that he needs to make sure that not just he, but everybody in his government understand that those reports are completely false because when rumors like that start swirling around, the 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."
After the coup attempt, Obama issued written statements expressing strong support for Turkey's democratically elected, civilian government. On Friday, he expressed concern over the crackdown Erdogan has undertaken since the overthrow was thwarted.
Turkey, a NATO ally, is a key player in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group. U.S. military jets use the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey to conduct air strikes against IS extremists in Syria and Iraq. The U.S. Defense Department said Friday that Turkey had restored electrical power to the base after it was cut following the failed coup. The base had been operating on a backup generator since July 16.
Erdogan, meanwhile, has blamed followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for masterminding the uprising. He has asked the U.S. to extradite Gulen to Turkey. Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, has denied any knowledge of the attempted coup.
Obama said Friday that any decision on whether to extradite Gulen "is not a decision that I make." He said it would be the end result of a long-standing, legal process for judging extradition requests by a foreign government. The Justice and State Departments are reviewing material Turkey has provided the U.S. about the coup to determine whether it amounts to a formal extradition request.
"I told President Erdogan that they should present us with evidence that they think indicates the involvement of Mr. Gulen or anybody else who is here in the United States, and it would be processed the way that it is always processed and that we would certainly take any allegations like this seriously," Obama said.
Since the botched attempt to overthrow Erdogan, Turkey's parliament has approved a three-month state of emergency, giving the president sweeping new powers. Erdogan has said the state of emergency will counter threats to democracy. Critics are urging restraint out of fear that the measure will violate basic freedoms.
The Turkish government has imposed a crackdown, including mass arrests and firings, and the closing of hundreds of schools allegedly tied to Gulen.
Obama said he hoped that "as the dust settles" the government doesn't overreact and limit civil liberties or weaken the ability of legitimate opposition to have their concerns heard.
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