(CNSNews.com) – The State Department on Thursday rejected allegations by a senior Turkish government minister that the United States played a role in an abortive coup attempt in 2016, an accusation providing a further indicator of a deeply afflicted relationship between the U.S. and its purported NATO ally.
“The United States had no involvement in the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey and promptly condemned it,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a terse statement. “Recent assertions to the contrary made by senior Turkish officials are wholly false.”
“These remarks and other unfounded and irresponsible claims of U.S. responsibility for events in Turkey are inconsistent with Turkey’s status as a NATO ally and strategic partner of the United States,” Price added.
The latest incident does not bode well for relations between Turkey, already marred by a range of disputes.
Among the dozens of calls made during the early weeks of the new administration, neither President Biden nor Secretary of State Antony Blinken is reported to have spoken to their Turkish counterparts. The highest-level official interaction to date had been a phone conversation between National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s advisor Ibrahim Kalin on Tuesday.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu charged this week that the movement led by the reclusive Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, carried out the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, at the behest of the United States.
“It is obvious that America is behind July 15,” Soylu told a leading Turkish journalist, Nedim ener, who recounted the conversation in his column in the Hurriyet daily. “It was FETO who carried it out at their instructions.” (The Turkish authorities have dubbed Gulen’s social and educational movement the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization, or FETO.)
Soylu said his accusation was not new, as he had made first made it hours after the coup bid was crushed.
He complained about U.S. and international “support” for Gulen, saying that INTERPOL has not accepted one of the Turkish government’s hundreds of “red notice” requests related to Gulenists whom it holds responsible for the coup attempt.
“They did not accept our hundreds of applications,” he said. “We are not even writing to INTERPOL anymore because they are protecting them. Can they [FETO] survive if the international system is not behind it, if it does not protect it?” he asked.
The coup attempt by members of the armed forces was quickly quelled but more than 200 people were killed, including police officers, coup supporters and civilians. In its aftermath, Erdogan unleashed a massive crackdown whose effects are still being felt. Tens of thousands of Turks accused of links to Gulen were arrested and put on trial, and more than 150,000 soldiers, judges, teachers and others were purged.
Caught up in the sweep were Turkish employees at U.S. diplomatic missions, as well as Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical pastor who was held for two years and tried on terror and spying charges, before President Trump secured his release.
The comments by Soylu, an Erdogan loyalist and deputy chairman of his Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), add to a growing list of irritants in the bilateral relationship. Others include:
--Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system, a move that has already cost Turkey its participation in the global F-35 joint strike fighter program and sanctions under legislation targeting “significant” financial transactions with Russia’s military sector.
--Erdogan’s unilateral 2019 military offensive against Syrian Kurdish YPG forces who were allies in the U.S.-led campaign to defeat ISIS. The Trump administration designated several Turkish ministries and ministers – including Soylu – in response.
--Turkey’s anger over the U.S. support for the YPG, whose affiliation to the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) makes it a terrorist group in Ankara’s view.
--Turkey’s incarceration and prosecution of U.S. consular officials and of Brunson. The Trump administration in 2018 targeted two Turkish cabinet ministers – Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül – for sanctions over the treatment of the pastor.
--Turkey’s frustration at successive U.S. administrations’ refusal to extradite Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan who has lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. since 1999. Erdogan has unsuccessful sought to extradite Gulen since 2013, accusing him of trying to overthrow the Turkish state. The demands intensified after the coup attempt. (Gulen has denied the accusations.)
--Erdogan’s longstanding vocal support for Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that controls Gaza.
--Erdogan’s oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean in waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus, and his decision in 2020 to revert Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia into a mosque, ignoring appeals from Orthodox church leaders and the Trump administration.