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Erdogan visits Russia after coup attempt stirs tensions with the West

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in St. Petersburg Tuesday, a step toward mending ties ruptured last year when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near Syria’s border. Judy Woodruff discusses the turmoil in Turkey with Kemal Kirişci of the Brookings Institution and Henri Barkey of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

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    But, first: It's been three weeks since a failed coup attempt rocked the nation of Turkey.

    Since then, thousands have been arrested in a crackdown on suspected plotters, including military officers, educators and journalists.

    Today, there was no mistaking the message from Turkey's leader has changed, by his choice of where to travel.

    A telling moment in St. Petersburg: Russia's President Vladimir Putin welcomed Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,

  • PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkey (through translator):

    The relations between Russia and Turkey entered into a really positive stage. I am sure that steps we both take will widen our cooperation.

  • PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through translator):

    Your visit today means that we all want at renewal of our dialogue and restoration of our relations in the interests of Russian and Turkish peoples.


    It's their first meeting since those relations were sent into a tailspin last November, when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border. Erdogan has since apologized, and, today, the two pledged to restart commercial deals.

    They will also discuss their differences over Syria. Erdogan wants President Bashar al-Assad ousted, but Russian airpower has helped keep him in place. The visit also comes as the July coup attempt has triggered tensions between Turkey and the West.

  • PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN (through translator):

    Does the West support terrorism or not? Does the West side with democracy or the coup or terrorism?


    Erdogan accuses a former ally, cleric Fethullah Gulen, of fomenting the coup. He lives in Pennsylvania, and Turkey wants the U.S. to extradite him immediately. Today, the Turkish justice minister said the U.S. is risking relations with a NATO ally by not handing Gulen over.

    The Obama administration says the normal extradition process must play out.

  • ELIZABETH TRUDEAU, State Department Spokesperson:

    We expect all parties, media, civil society, the Turkish government, to be responsible.


    Meanwhile, millions turned out in Istanbul on Sunday in a mass show of support for Erdogan. All the while, purges continue throughout the Turkish military and public sector. To date, more than 16,000 people have been arrested over the coup attempt. Thousands more, including judges and educators, have been sacked. Journalists have been detained and scores of news organizations shut down.

    Joining me now for more on this, Kemal Kirisci, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. And Henri Barkey, he's director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

    And welcome to both of you.

    Henri Barkey, to you first.

    You were in Turkey for a conference the weekend the coup took place. You have been accused by the Turkish media of having played a role in fomenting the coup. Is there any truth to that?

    HENRI BARKEY, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: Of course not. I mean, it's complete, complete imagination. They just want to accuse America, and they're using us as a scapegoat.


    And so they just made it up?


    Oh, they made up — the stories that they made up are so incredible, that they're not worth repeating on the air, but they involve fanciful American criminals who came from California to help us do things, to — complete, complete fiction.

    We were on an island 45 minutes away from all the events and doing our job, which was at a conference.


    Kemal Kirisci, who do you believe was behind the coup?

  • KEMAL KIRISCI, Brookings Institution:

    I very much empathize and agree with my colleague Henri Barkey, but I think one also has to understand that this nation is going through a major shock, a major trauma.

    There was a coup attempt. It was a bloody coup attempt. Turkey has had previous experiences with coups. But none of them have been directed towards the public in the manner in which this has taken place. None of the previous coups attacked actually the Turkish Parliament.

    And the people on their own steam at first, and then galvanized the president of Turkey, stood up against this coup, and feel that they have succeeded in protecting their democracy, as much as this democracy may have its problems.

    But the country is also — has a longstanding tradition of, unfortunately, anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism and skepticism towards the West. And a number of issues have aligned one after the other that is fueling this perspective on the West.


    Well, let me just stop you there, because I want to get to this point that Turkish government has — they have repeatedly said and suggested that the United States was behind the coup.

    Henri Barkey, is there any evidence that ties the United States to what happened?


    Look, there is absolutely no evidence. There is no reason for the United States to execute a coup. It's not in the interests the United States.

    Turkey and the United States have been working. Although they have disagreements, they were working very closely on Syria with the two countries. There was an agreement between President Obama and President Erdogan as to what to do in Syria.

    The days of coups over. No administration in the United States in the 21st century is going the sanction a coup in Turkey. But this fallacy in Turkey that everything is done by the United States, it's an easy way of blaming others for domestic issues.


    Kemal Kirisci, how do you explain this? I mean, the Turkish government has said the U.S. is involved. What do you believe about that?


    You know, there's very many conflicting views that are coming out.

    On the one hand, there is what you have just said, what Henri has said. But then the spokesman of the president, Ibrahim Kalin, keeps saying that that's not the position of the Turkish government and presidency.

    Yet, on the other hand, I have watched hours and hours of TV debate, and, in those debates, unfortunately, people of high military ranks, including a former chief of staff, is convinced that there is an American finger somewhere along the way, directly or indirectly.


    Henri Barkey, what are the consequences of that if this continues in Turkey?


    Well, the consequences are serious. At the moment, the American government is trying to keep low and not to make too much of a fuss.

    But, unfortunately, the longer this lasts, the more the Turkish officials directly or indirectly attack the United States, the more the American — Turkish public is going to become more anti-American.

    And we have already seen the consequences. Fulbright has canceled now for next year its — its…


    Scholar exchange.


    Scholars going forward, because people are afraid that the Americans will be at risk.

    And, therefore, it's more than just Americans being at risk. It's the fact that it would be very difficult for Turkish officials and American officials, especially at the military level, to work together in a harmonious way as they did before.


    Well, Kemal Kirisci, we're hearing that officials in the Erdogan government are saying this. What about President Erdogan himself? Do you think he believes that the U.S. was involved?


    If you listen to his rhetoric, I think you would say yes.

    However, it's very difficult to go into his mind. He can also be very pragmatic when he chooses to be. I think the point here is that there was a coup attempt and there are allegations, for some, quite convincing allegations, that individuals belonging to the Gulenist movement were involved in it.

    As a consequence, an ally of the United States, a member of NATO's military is in a mess. The country is in a state of turmoil. And from my perspective, I think these allegations need to be taken seriously, and maybe some cooperation put into place to investigate whether they are true or not, independently of the extradition issue that was made reference to.


    You mean — you're talking about extraditing the cleric, the Turkish cleric who is in Pennsylvania.




    The U.S. has said they don't have the evidence to proceed with an extradition.

    But just to be clear, what are you saying by an investigation? What are you saying needs to be done here?


    For the average Turkish mind, it's very difficult not — not to think that the United States wouldn't have some access to intelligence information, when, for example,, the commander of the Incirlik base group, with whom the United States shares the base, was amongst the instigators of the coup and even attempted to seek asylum with U.S. military authorities there.

    So, put yourself in the shoes of an average Turkish person, and maybe officials as well, and look at the United States, look at its resources, look at its intelligence networks. It becomes very difficult to convince them that somehow the United States was oblivious to what was coming up there.


    Let me…



    I am prepared personally to go along with it, but that's the state of mind.

    And I'm suggesting that the United States has a stake, the government has a stake to cooperate with their counterpart and look into whatever intelligence and information may be available through the networks that the U.S. has access.


    Henri Barkey, is there a way to do that? Where do you see this going?


    I actually think the only way this is going to end is if there's a very forceful response from the United States that asks President Erdogan needs to squash these stories.

    The only person in Turkey who can squash these stories is Mr. Erdogan. If he gets up and says, "I don't believe the United States was involved, we have no evidence to that effect," that will put most of the rumors aside.

    But, for that, I think President Obama has to get involved. It's not going to happen because some State Department spokesperson said…


    Well, President Obama has said this absolutely, unequivocally didn't happen, that there was no U.S. involvement. So, what more are you saying President Obama…


    He said this in a press interview with President Nieto of Mexico.

    He needs to address directly the Turkish press, maybe invite the Turkish press to the White House, and challenge also President Erdogan. He can't let this go on like this. There won't be an investigation. There cannot be an investigation.


    You're saying the administration hasn't taken it seriously enough?


    Right. Right.

    So, they have taken it seriously, but they're choosing to keep quiet. And that keeps the rumors going.


    Henri Barkey, Kemal Kirisci, thanks to both of you.


    Thank you.

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