President Barack Obama rejected on Friday suggestions the US was behind a failed coup in Turkey, voicing strong support for the government in Ankara and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Any reports that we had any previous knowledge of a coup attempt, that there was any US involvement in it, that we were anything other than entirely supportive of Turkish democracy, are completely false, unequivocally false,” Obama said at the White House during a joint news conference with Mexico’s President.
Obama faces a delicate balance in his response to the attempted overthrow of Erdogan’s government. Friday marked Obama’s first public comments on the coup attempt, which fizzled at the end of last week. He phoned Erdogan on Tuesday as the Turkish government began a crackdown on suspected coup plotters.
Obama called for government restraint, but his remarks were carefully calibrated. He said it was hard for Americans to understand how fearful Turkish citizens were in the aftermath of the coup attempt.
“We can’t discount how scary and shaken not just the Turkish government is, but Turkish society is,” he said. “Imagine if you had some group of military officials here in the United States who started flying off with F-16s or other artillery and were taking shots at government buildings, and people were killed and injured. People would be scared and rightfully so.”
The US relies heavily on Turkey in its efforts against ISIS, also known as ISIL and Daesh, including through its use of the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. The cooperation was hard-won after lengthy negotiations with Erdogan’s government. In the days following the coup attempt, power was shut off to the base. But Obama said Friday operations were up and running.
“We will continue to work with Turkey even as they try to stabilize the situation. Our base at Incirlik, from which we are going after ISIL hard, is up and running again, and we continue to work with them to make sure that we don’t lose momentum that we’ve built,” Obama said.
Turkey’s ambassador to the US, Serdar Kılıç, delivered a similar message to reporters in Washington Friday.
“The joint effort in the coalition against Daesh and other terrorist organizations is not going to be affected negatively in any way. That is for sure,”
When asked about allegations that the US might have been involved in the coup, Kılıç said, “Given the close relations between Turkey and the United States, I hope not.”
But the tenuous partnership could be further shaken by Turkey’s demands that the US extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan accuses of helping plot the coup.
Obama said that “a legal process” remained before the federal government would do so.