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'Gulen is a legal case'

Interview: Basak SezenAugust 22, 2016

Former US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey spoke to DW ahead of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the country. He discussed Turkey's recent coup attempt, Fethullah Gulen and the US-Turkey relationship.

Fethullah Gulen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Sevi

DW: US Vice President Joe Biden will be meeting with Turkish officials this week. What can we expect from this visit?

James Jeffrey: I think that the first subject would be Fethullah Gulen (pictured above) and what the outlook will be for the extradition case. Secondly, there will be a discussion over the harsh rhetoric and misunderstandings we have seen on both sides.

DW: What can this visit change?

I think first of all, there has to be a toning down on both sides. Legally, Fethullah Gulen's [case] has to be decided by the judiciary in the US. The bureaucracy that is the Obama administration has a certain role in that. The administration has to present the Turkish case and the judiciary decides. That is the way this thing works. And the Turks have to understand that.

Whether the Obama administration wants to send Fethullah Gulen back or not, whether we want to have good relations with Turkey or not - it doesn't depend on the administration. That is the way it works. As long as Turkey doesn't seem to understand that, there will be tension in the relationship.

DW: The Turkish government believes that Fethullah Gulen is responsible for the coup attempt. Why does the USA seem skeptical about it?

USA ehemaliger US-Botschafter in der Türkei, Irak und Albanien James Jeffrey
Jeffrey served as US Ambassador to Turkey from 2008 to 2010Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Loeb

I wouldn't say that the US administration either believes Gulen is guilty or doesn't believe Gulen is guilty. The US government simply cannot take a position like that until it has gone through all of the materials of legal requests for extradition. That is what we are doing now. So, for the moment, the US government doesn't have any opinion.

However, many American observers are skeptical. They aren't skeptical because of a lack of information about the problems with Fethullah Gulen, but because people are very suspicious of President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan as a person who is authoritarian and who might be exploiting the Gulen case and the coup to expand his own power.

It is quite possible that, in fact, Gulen is responsible for this putsch. I think it is probable having seen what they have done in other contexts. But, it is also possible that President Erdogan has a different view of how a democratic system works than we would have in America or in the EU. So both are possible.

DW: What is your take on the coup attempt?

My personal take is that this was clearly a plot. It was not by the military, at least not a significant part of the military. We can rule that out. It was very different from prior coups. The fact that a considerable number of officers were involved in it suggests that this was a plot that was prepared well in advance and kept secret from the government. That requires a very well organized, disciplined, ideologically-based group in the military. The only group that meets those criteria that I can think of would be Gulenists.

There is a huge change going on in Turkish politics, economics and defense following the coup. Some believe this is a full reconstruction of the state. What kind of a Turkey do you see in a few years?

Türkei Erdogan in Ankara
Jeffrey: Erdogan 'is in a position of unparalleled power'Image: picture-alliance/AA/G. Yilmaz

I think we have to wait and see. I think there are several outcomes. It depends most of all on what the president wants to do. He is in a position of unparalleled power. He has generally sought to pull ever more power towards him, but whether he will continue to do so or how he will do that, or whether he will be met with resistance, we don't know.

A delegation from the US Justice Department will visit Turkey as well this week. Discussion between the two countries on Gulen's extradition is ongoing. How do you think that process will go?

I think we will make progress. I think that administratively there are steps that the US government can take to expedite the processing of the extradition request. There are also steps the US can take to put pressure on the Gulenist movement and on Fethullah Gulen short of judicial action, short of criminal action, but simply as a person whose actions may not be in the interests of the US. Those are the issues that we can discuss probably more with Vice President Biden than with people from the Justice Ministry.

James Jeffrey is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute where he focuses on U.S. regional, diplomatic, and military strategy, as well as Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. He was the United States ambassador to Turkey from 2008-2010.