Will the US extradite Gulen to appease Erdogan?

Experts said the Trump administration’s behind-the-scenes efforts are an attempt to navigate increasing hostilities between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Sunday 18/11/2018
In this file photo taken on July 18, 2016, Turkish cleric and opponent to the Erdogan regime Fethullah Gulen poses at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on July 18, 2016, Turkish cleric and opponent to the Erdogan regime Fethullah Gulen poses at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. (AFP)

Ever since news broke that a team from Riyadh had killed Saudi national and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the Trump administration has had a difficult time formulating a proper response.

On the one hand, the administration did not want to be negative about the royal family after rumours linked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz to the crime. On the other, the administration could not ignore the negative global reaction to the killing, especially among allies.

Now the Trump administration has taken a concrete step — financial sanctions on the 17 individuals named by the Saudi government as being involved in the Khashoggi killing. Critics in diplomatic and media circles dismiss the response as too little and want to see the administration take tougher steps.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not made things any easier for the Trump administration with near daily leaks about the killing surfacing in the Turkish media and a clear indication the Turkish government possesses lots of information. Erdogan’s announcement that he gave copies of the audiotape of Khashoggi’s killing to intelligence services of other countries increased the pressure on the Trump administration.

As a result, the administration has come up with a unique way to deal with the problem. To try to get the Turks to stop putting pressure on the Saudis, in particular Crown Prince Mohammed, the Trump administration is exploring something that Erdogan has wanted for several years — the extradition of his arch-rival and the man he considers responsible for the failed coup against him in 2016.

Fethullah Gulen moved to the United States in 1999. He lives in a remote location in Pennsylvania. He was once an ally of Erdogan’s but the two fell out in 2013. After the 2016 coup attempt, Turkey has made a habit of regularly requesting his extradition from the United States.

The Obama administration denied the requests because it said it could not find evidence of terrorist activities alleged to have been committed by Gulen but on November 15 and 16, US media broadcast stories quoting senior US officials saying the Trump administration was trying to find ways to extradite Gulen to Turkey in exchange for Turkey backing off on the Khashoggi killing.

In late October, the administration allegedly sent directives to the US Justice Department and the FBI to reopen the file on Turkey’s request for Gulen’s extradition. Trump administration officials reportedly also sent a question to the Homeland Security Department about Gulen’s legal status. Gulen holds a Green Card, which allows him residency in the United States.

The officials who spoke to American media said that the administration’s requests generated only eye rolls at first but then, as it became apparent the request was serious, officials at the Justice Department and the FBI were furious.

However, the Department of Homeland Security denied that any such request had been received and no other US government entity involved in the alleged activity around Gulen’s extradition responded to requests for comment. A lawyer representing Gulen refused to comment on the situation.

Turkey’s official response was to deny that its concerns about the Khashoggi killing are linked to Gulen’s possible extradition.

Experts said the Trump administration’s behind-the-scenes efforts are an attempt to navigate increasing hostilities between two of its most important regional allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration is loth to harshly criticise Saudi Arabia for fear of endangering its support for the long-awaited and much-delayed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan headed by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The administration also doesn’t want to endanger possible business deals, such as the Saudi purchase of billions of dollars of US military equipment.

So, what happens next? Even if the Trump administration finds a way to extradite Gulen it would probably be many months, if not years, before it would happen because of court challenges to any likely plan for Gulen’s extradition.

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