Joe Biden to visit Turkey: Exiled cleric will be ‘top of agenda’

US Vice President Joe Biden will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later this month.

Story highlights

US Vice President Joe Biden will visit Turkey on August 24

Turkey's President says relations between the countries are "so-so" following coup attempt

CNN  — 

When US Vice President Joe Biden visits Turkey on August 24, he’ll no doubt have plenty to discuss with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

One of the top items on the agenda will likely be Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric Erdogan accuses of planning an attempted military coup in July.

Erdogan has demanded that the United States immediately extradite the 75-year-old imam from his home in Pennsylvania to Turkey.

Gulen has denied the allegations.

Read more: Who is Fethullah Gulen, the man blamed for coup attempt in Turkey?

At a news conference in Istanbul Saturday, the Turkish President said that the group Gulen leads – which the Turkish government says is a terror group – will be “the number one item on the agenda” during Biden’s visit.

A delegation of officials from the State Department and Justice Department also will travel to Turkey to consult with government officials there about Turkey’s investigation into Gulen, a State Department spokesperson said Saturday.

Erdogan added that relations between Turkey and the US were “so-so” following the attempted coup in which almost 300 people were killed and over 35,00 people were arrested, remanded, or detained.

Read more: What Turkey’s crackdown looks like one month on

The US government condemned the coup attempt and denied any involvement. But Erdogan and other Turkish officials have claimed the US and other Western countries haven’t been forceful enough in their denunciations of the attempt to remove Erdogan from power.

Amid these tensions, the US must also rely on Turkey as a partner in NATO and for its agreement to allow the US military to use a base in Turkey to stage its air missions to fight ISIS in Syria.

Gulen’s extradition

01:32 - Source: CNN
On GPS: Who is behind the attempted coup in Turkey?

Senior White House officials told CNN they were working in “lock-step” with counterparts in Turkey to ensure all evidence is received in the Gulen case.

However, they added, Gulen’s extradition case will be determined in court – not by the US President or vice president.

“What I said to President Erdogan is the same thing I would say to you and anybody else who asks, which is that we have a process here in the United States for dealing with extradition requests made by foreign governments, and it’s governed by treaties and by laws, and it’s not a decision that I make,” US President Barack Obama has previously said.


02:13 - Source: CNN
Trump interview contradicts Pence

During his visit to Turkey, Vice President Biden will also emphasize the widespread support for upholding NATO, amid international concerns about what a Trump presidency could mean for the organization, a senior White House official told CNN.

In a New York Times interview, Trump outlined a sharp break in US foreign policy tradition, suggesting the US wouldn’t defend NATO allies like the Baltic states against Russian aggression if they haven’t “fulfilled their obligation to us.”

The Republican presidential nominee has repeatedly made the case that most of NATO’s 28-member countries are not making the requisite financial contributions for their common defense, and he’s said in the past that “the US must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

Opinion: The danger of Trump’s comments

Erdogan and Putin meeting

08:12 - Source: CNN
Breaking down Turkey's rapprochement with Russia

Following the recent face-to-face meeting between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, senior White House officials told CNN they were “encouraged” that the two countries are “mending fences” after November’s fly over incident.

It’s the first time the two leaders have met since Turkish interceptors blasted a Russian warplane out of the skies over Syria late last year.

The Turkish leader made a point of saying that the visit was his first foreign trip since he saw off July’s uprising – perhaps an indication of his dismay at the perceived lack of support from his NATO partners.

CNN’s Ben Wedeman and Allison Malloy contributed to this report