Turkish premier says he expects justice in US, not prisoner swaps

By FIRAT KOZOK | Bloomberg | Published: November 11, 2017

Turkey is expecting justice from the U.S., not a political arrangement to exchange prisoners held by each country, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said after a trip to Washington to meet with Vice President Mike Pence.

"It's not very ethical to do political bargaining on legal issues," Yildirim said in an interview with Bloomberg at the Turkish consulate in New York, in a rejection of allegations made by U.S. and German authorities that Turkey's holding their respective citizens captive as political leverage. "What we want isn't a give-and-take, what we want is for justice to be served."

The remarks came after a meeting with Pence at the White House, in which each side expressed deep frustration with developments in the other's justice system. Turkey has jailed an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, along with several Turkish-American citizens and Turkish employees of the U.S. diplomatic mission.

In the U.S., a Turkish-Iranian gold trader and an executive from a Turkish state-run bank are jailed on charges of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions. Members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail have also been charged with assault for a fight with protesters in the U.S. in May.

Yildirim reiterated that Turkey gave the U.S. no guarantees about any further legal processes, rejecting a Nov. 6 statement from the State Department that claimed otherwise. He said the only guarantee Turkey made was to share information with the U.S. on "critical developments" that could further impact relations.

While Yildirim expressed optimism that cooperation with the U.S. will improve, the disagreements over execution of justice show how far the two sides remain from normalizing ties. In a statement following the meeting, the White House said both sides expressed hopes of ushering in a "new chapter in U.S.-Turkey relations," but added that the vice president had conveyed to Yildirim his "deep concern over the arrests of American citizens, Mission Turkey local staff, journalists, and members of civil society."

There was little evidence of a breakthrough on other issues critical to both countries, including Turkey's request that the U.S. extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based cleric blamed by Turkey's government for a July 2016 coup attempt. The arrests in Turkey were made in purges that followed the failed putsch, with people including the pastor and the U.S. consular staff accused of supporting it.

"Even the deaf sultan has heard that FETO was behind the July 15 coup," Yildirim said, using the Turkish government's term for Fethullah Gulen's followers. "Everything that needs to be said on this subject has been said, and every document necessary has been delivered. What we want now is for the U.S. administration take a step on this issue immediately, to start an investigation, for the inquiry to begin."

U.S. officials have said that the evidence provided by Turkey about Gulen lacks sufficient proof of his direct involvement in the coup attempt to justify opening a probe. Gulen, whose influential global network was a longtime proponent of Erdogan and his ruling party but later turned into their arch-nemesis, denies involvement.

The U.S. also made no concessions on its partnership with the YPG, a Kurdish group in Syria that Turkey lists as a terrorist organization, according to Yildirim. U.S. forces have trained, armed and fought alongside the YPG against Islamic State, despite strident Turkish objections.

"We know Turkey's discomfort but our partnership is going to continue a bit longer," Yildirim cited the Americans as saying in the meeting. He said the U.S. assured Turkey that its arrangement with the YPG was "tactical cooperation, not a long-term partnership."

Turkey will move forward with its plan to purchase the S400 missile defense system from Russia, despite U.S. and NATO objections, Yildirim added.

"The S400s aren't a preference, but a necessity," he said. He said Turkey had sought comparable systems from the U.S., EU and NATO and was unable to get the terms it required, which include access to technology and joint production. "There was no offer that met our expectations," he said. "So finally we made a deal with Russia."

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