DOHA, Qatar — The Trump administration is “working on” the extradition of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish foreign minister said on Sunday.
“When we met in Buenos Aires, President Trump told [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that they have been working on that,” Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said during an onstage interview at the Doha Forum in Qatar. “But we need to see concrete steps.”
Turkey has long requested the US hand over Gulen, the leader of a religious movement that the Erdogan government says is a terrorist movement. Turkey has also claimed that Gulenists plotted an attempted coup in 2016 that left at least 260 people dead. Turkey’s effort to secure Gulen’s extradition has included a lobbying campaign that employed Michael Flynn while he served as Donald Trump’s national security adviser in late 2016.
Federal prosecutors are still investigating that lobbying effort, the New York Times reported in early December.
The hosting of Gulen has been one of two major stumbling blocks in the relationship between the US and Turkey in recent years, Çavuşoğlu said. The other has been the US alliance with the YPG, a Kurdish militia operating in northern Syria that Turkey insists is a terrorist group, and a splinter of the Turkish-based PKK, which the US recognizes as a terrorist organization. The YPG is a key part of the US-led coalition against ISIS in the region, and its members have fought side by side with American forces.
But Turkey has said a military incursion into Syria to battle the YPG is imminent; on Wednesday the Pentagon warned that such a unilateral incursion would be “unacceptable,” given the presence of American personnel there. During the interview in Doha, which Çavuşoğlu described as his “second home,” the Turkish minister talked down the risk of a confrontation between the Turkish army and US forces operating alongside the YPG.
“We are not risking American soldiers’ lives. Our target is the PKK and YPG terrorist organizations,” he said. When asked how Turkey could avoid putting US lives at risk in such an operation, Çavuşoğlu said the US president, who has expressed skepticism about America's role in Syria, could simplify the matter.
“President Trump, I think, is now considering to leave Syria,” he said.
BuzzFeed is a media partner of the Doha Forum.