Trump denies plan to extradite Gulen, ease Turkish pressure over Khashoggi murder

Trump denies plan to extradite Gulen, ease Turkish pressure over Khashoggi murder
A NBC report earlier this week said the Trump administration was studying extradition plans as it seeks to ease Turkish pressure on Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi murder.
3 min read
18 November, 2018
Trump in the Oval Office [Getty]
US President Donald Trump said Saturday he had no intent to extradite Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of plotting the failed 2016 coup, amid reports Washington would try to persuade Turkey to ease pressure on Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

Earlier this week, NBC reported that the White House was studying the legal ramifications of expelling the cleric, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.

"It's not under consideration," Trump told reporters shortly before departing on a daylong trip to California over deadly wildfires there.

"We are doing very well with Turkey," Trump said. "I get along very well with the president (Recep Tayyip Erdogan). He's a friend of mine. He's a strong man, a tough man and a smart man, so whatever we can do, we'll do... but at this point? No".

US-Turkish relations have recently been strained, but they warmed up after Ankara's release in October of American pastor Andrew Brunson. 

The fate of Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the attempted coup in Turkey and whom Washington has repeatedly refused to extradite, remains a central point of tension between the two NATO allies.

Gulen's teachings inspired the growth of a moderate, pro-Western Islamic movement that includes scores of schools, hospitals and businesses worldwide.

He left Turkey for the US in the 1990s after being accused of calling for the overthrow of the government. 

He has denied the charges, and lives with supporters in a rural compound in northeastern Pennsylvania.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had earlier rejected the NBC report that the White House was seeking a way to extradite Gulen, who reportedly has a US green card.

She insisted that "there is no relation" between the extradition issue and Turkish pressure on Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi's murder at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

Trump has been restrained in his criticism of the Saudis, saying on Saturday that "they give us a lot of jobs, economic development (and have been) a truly spectacular ally" despite widespread international criticism over Khashoggi's murder.

Turkey has been steadily ramping up pressure on Saudi Arabia after the dissident was murdered at Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul last month.

The Turkish President has said the order to kill the journalist came from "the highest levels" of the Riyadh government, but stopped short of pointing the finger of blame at the powerful Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

On Wednesday, Turkey called for an international probe into the murder of Khashoggi.

On Friday, local media reported that a second and longer audio recording reportedly reveals that Khashoggi's murder was premeditated.

Since President Trump was sworn into office, he has forged a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and made his first official foreign visit to the kingdom.

Trump has also made Riyadh a lynchpin of his regional efforts to contain Iran. 

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