Obama urges rule of law in Turkey, U.S. warns of damage to relations

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WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) - The United States urged Turkey on Saturday to exercise restraint after a failed military coup sparked a government crackdown, and warned its NATO ally that public suggestions of a U.S. role in the plot were "utterly false" and harmful to relations.

President Barack Obama urged parties on all sides of the crisis to avoid destabilizing Turkey and follow the rule of law after the coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan.

The coup attempt complicated U.S.-led efforts to combat Islamic State. Turkey closed its airspace to military aircraft and power was cut off to Incirlik air base, which U.S. forces use to launch air attacks against the militant group.

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Possible military coup in Turkey
People take cover near a bridge during an attempted coup in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan
Turkish solders stay with weapons at Taksim square as people protest agaist the military coup in Istanbul on July 16, 2016. Turkish military forces on July 16 opened fire on crowds gathered in Istanbul following a coup attempt, causing casualties, an AFP photographer said. The soldiers opened fire on grounds around the first bridge across the Bosphorus dividing Europe and Asia, said the photographer, who saw wounded people being taken to ambulances. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish solders stay with weapons at Taksim square as people protest agaist the military coup in Istanbul on July 16, 2016. Turkish military forces on July 16 opened fire on crowds gathered in Istanbul following a coup attempt, causing casualties, an AFP photographer said. The soldiers opened fire on grounds around the first bridge across the Bosphorus dividing Europe and Asia, said the photographer, who saw wounded people being taken to ambulances. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
People demonstrate outside Ataturk international airport during an attempted coup in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 16: People react against military coup attempt, at Kizilay square in Ankara, Turkey on July 16, 2016. (Photo by Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A group of approximately 50 young citizens of Turkey hold their national flag and shout slogans in support for Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan and his government, in Sarajevo on early on July 16, 2016. Turkish citizens, mostly students who reside in Bosnian capital, responded to Erdogan's call for citizens to get out on the streets and show support for Turkey's government during the military coup. / AFP / ELVIS BARUKCIC (Photo credit should read ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish military block access to the Bosphorus bridge, which links the city's European and Asian sides, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer
Turkish security officers detain Turkish police officers (in black) on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, during a security shutdown of the Bosphorus Bridge. The Turkish military on July 15 said that it had assumed power over Turkey, in what the prime minister has termed an illegal act. 'The power in the country has been seized in its entirety,' said a military statement read on NTV television, without giving further details. The military's website was not immediately accessible. / AFP / Yasin AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 15 : 'There is an uprising attempt from within the army,' says Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 'Those who are doing this will be punished in the hardest way.' (Photo by Ahmet zgi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JULY 15: Turkish soldiers block Istanbul's Bosphorus Brigde on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul's bridges across the Bosphorus, the strait separating the European and Asian sides of the city, have been closed to traffic. Reports have suggested that a group within Turkey's military have attempted to overthrow the government. Security forces have been called in as Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim denounced an 'illegal action' by a military 'group', with bridges closed in Istanbul and aircraft flying low over the capital of Ankara. (Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images)
Turkish soldiers block Istanbul's iconic Bosporus Bridge on Friday, July 15, 2016, lit in the colours of the French flag in solidarity with the victims of Thursday's attack in Nice, France. A group within Turkey's military has engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup, the prime minister said, with military jets flying over the capital and reports of vehicles blocking two major bridges in Istanbul. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told NTV television: "it is correct that there was an attempt," when asked if there was a coup. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A Turkish soldier stands on guard on the side of the road on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, during a security shutdown of the Bosphorus Bridge. The Turkish military on July 15 said that it had assumed power over Turkey, in what the prime minister has termed an illegal act. 'The power in the country has been seized in its entirety,' said a military statement read on NTV television, without giving further details. The military's website was not immediately accessible. / AFP / Yasin AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish security officers detain Turkish police officers (in black) on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, during a security shutdown of the Bosphorus Bridge. The Turkish military on July 15 said that it had assumed power over Turkey, in what the prime minister has termed an illegal act. 'The power in the country has been seized in its entirety,' said a military statement read on NTV television, without giving further details. The military's website was not immediately accessible. / AFP / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 15 : 'There is an uprising attempt from within the army,' says Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 'Those who are doing this will be punished in the hardest way.' (Photo by Ahmet zgi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 15 : 'There is an uprising attempt from within the army,' says Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 'Those who are doing this will be punished in the hardest way.' (Photo by Ahmet zgi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - JULY 15 : 'There is an uprising attempt from within the army,' says Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. 'Those who are doing this will be punished in the hardest way.' (Photo by Ahmet zgi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Police officers stand guard near the Turkish military headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Tumay Berkin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkish military block access to the Bosphorus bridge, which links the city's European and Asian sides, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer
Turkish soldiers are seen on the Asian side of Istanbul, Friday, July 15, 2016. A group within Turkey's military has engaged in what appeared to be an attempted coup, the prime minister said, with military jets flying over the capital and reports of vehicles blocking two major bridges in Istanbul. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told NTV television: "it is correct that there was an attempt," when asked if there was a coup. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
An injured man is carried near a bridge during an attempted coup in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Yagiz Karahan
A group within Turkey's military has attempted to overthrow the government, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said as security forces closed bridges along the Bosphorus and descended on Ankara and Istanbul.
A group within Turkey's military has attempted to overthrow the government, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said as security forces closed bridges along the Bosphorus and descended on Ankara and Istanbul.
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U.S. officials were working with Turkish officials to resume air operations quickly, the Pentagon said.

Secretary of State John Kerry told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that authorities should respect the rule of law during their probe of the coup.

He also said "public insinuations or claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations," the State Department said.

Turkey has long been a key U.S. ally but relations have been strained in recent years and Erdogan's government has accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of being behind the coup attempt.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said any country that stands by Gulen will be considered at war with Turkey, and Erdogan urged Washington to deport the cleric.

Kerry said the United States was willing to help Turkey as it tries to identify those involved in the coup attempt, but made clear it would only act if there was evidence against Gulen.

"We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr Gulen, and obviously we invite the government of Turkey ... to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny and the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments appropriately," he said.

Gulen has condemned the coup attempt and denied any involvement in it.

Obama conferred with his national security and foreign policy advisers on Saturday morning and reiterated his support for the "democratically-elected, civilian" government of Turkey.

"While we have no indications as of yet that Americans were killed or injured in the violence, the president and his team lamented the loss of life and registered the vital need for all parties in Turkey to act within the rule of law and to avoid actions that would lead to further violence or instability," the White House said.

Obama noted the United States needed continued cooperation from Turkey in the fight against terrorism.

Forces loyal to Erdogan largely crushed the last remnants of the coup on Saturday as he launched a purge of the armed forces to tighten his grip on power.

Turkey scrambled jets throughout Friday night to resist the coup launched by a faction within Turkey's military that saw rebels piloting military aircraft.

The Incirlik air base near Adana in the southeast of the country was running on internal power sources after a loss of commercial power to the base, the Pentagon said.

"U.S. officials are working with the Turks to resume air operations there as soon as possible," said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook. "In the meantime, U.S. Central Command is adjusting flight operations in the counter-ISIL campaign to minimize any effects on the campaign."

THREAT TO COALITION FIGHT

Erdogan has cooperated with Washington in the fight against Islamic State, but relations have been rocky with U.S. criticism of Erdogan's increasing authoritarianism, Turkey's support for Islamist opposition groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the slow pace in sealing Turkey's border with Syria to foreign fighters.

The closing of the airspace over Incirlik effectively grounded U.S. aircraft and drones that have been instrumental in the campaign to crush Islamic State in Syria, including supporting drives by Syrian Kurds and moderate Arabs, who are being advised by U.S. special forces, to seize the militant-held city of Manbij and Raqqa, the "capital" of the caliphate declared by Islamic State.

"Clearly the variable here is how long the closure will last," said Jeffrey White, a former senior Defense Intelligence Agency analyst now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "If we're unable to fly from Incirlik, it will have a significant impact on the air campaign."

A Turkish presidency official in Istanbul said the move was temporary and aimed at preventing rogue aircraft from targeting civilians and government buildings.

"This is a short-term measure which won't have significant effect on coalition operations," the official said. "We have discussed this measure with our colleagues in Washington as well and they understand our concerns."

A prolonged closure of Incirlik's airspace could force the United States to divert aircraft based in the Persian Gulf to the Manbij and Raqqa offensives, constraining the air power available to support Iraqi and U.S. forces involved in operations against Islamic State.

It could also complicate the Pentagon's ability to resupply and aid U.S. special forces inside Syria. (Additional reporting by Dasha Afanasieva, John Walcott, Phil Stewart and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Kieran Murray and Mary Milliken)


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