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News 02 Aug 16

US Military Chief Visits Turkey to Ease Tensions

Top US military official Joseph Dunford made an unexpected two-day visit to Turkey in what local experts believe is an attempt to improve strained relations after the recent failed coup.

 Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, left, and The U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford. Photo by: Beta

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, visited the NATO military base in Incirlik, some 500 kilometres south of Ankara on Tuesday, as part of a two-day visit seen as an attempt to ease tensions between the two countries.

In Ankara on Monday, Dunford met Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and was reported to have condemned last month’s attempted military coup.

"General Dunford condemns the failed coup attempt in the strongest terms and the US will continue to deepen its relations with Turkey in every aspect after the terrorist events on July 15," said a statement issued by Yildirim’s office after the meeting.

The statement added that Dunford's visit was a sign of US support for its strategic partner and for Turkish democracy.

Yildirim used the meeting to press for the extradition of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the US and is blamed by the Ankara government for the coup plot.

Washington has insisted that Ankara provide proof to support its allegations against Gulen.

According to the statement from the premier’s office, Yildirim told Dunford that "the Fethullah terrorist organisation" remained the main threat to Turkish democracy.

"The US must help Turkey, which is an important ally for the US, in its fight against these terrorists," the statement added.
Dunford also met his Turkish counterpart General Hulusi Akar and the two of them visited the parliament building, which was damaged in the fighting on July 15.

US officials openly supported President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the night of failed coup, but then joined the rest of the West in criticising the Turkish government for the massive crackdown which started immediately afterwards, allegedly aimed at the coup's instigators but also suspected to be targeting the opposition.

US-Turkey relations were additionally burdened by the Turkish demands  for Gulen's immediate extradition.

Relations between the two countries suffered an additional blow after Turkish pro-government daily newspaper Yeni Safak reported immediately after the coup attempt that the operation was helped by a retired US general, John Campbell, who previously commanded American troops in Afghanistan.

General Dunford has previously rejected these claims as "absurd".

The Incirlik base - key to NATO military operations in the region, where some 50 to 90 tactical nuclear weapons are housed - has been completely sealed off by 7,000 Turkish police since July 31, when local media reported that another military uprising could be taking place there.

The blockade of NATO's crucial military base by Turkish forces, which have until recently been a key US ally, is another example of how relations with the US had deteriorated.

Dunford’s visit was downplayed by pro-government media, which only ran short news reports citing official statements from Turkish government officials.

Most local independent media organisations were closed in the aftermath of the failed coup so there was no alternative coverage.

The subdued coverage could be a sign that the Turkish authorities were not satisfied with the messages conveyed by Washington, said an Ankara-based expert on US-Turkish relations.

"There is no sign that the US accepts Turkey’s requests, including the extradition of US-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen," the expert told BIRN on condition of anonymity.

"General Dunford's visit will not end Erdogan’s criticism against Western leaders," he added.

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