White House considers using Gülen as makeweight to ease Turkish pressure on Saudi prince - NBC

Senior U.S. officials have said U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is looking for ways to send Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen to Turkey in exchange for easing pressure on the Saudi government, NBC News reported on Thursday.

The report suggests that the United States would ask Turkey to drop its pressure over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi if the United States returns Gülen, who leads a religious movement that is banned in Turkey and is thought to have planned the July 2016 coup attempt.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been in a tough position since it emerged that the Turkish government possessed evidence on Khashoggi’s murder, which took place while he was at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

Ankara has kept sustained pressure on the crown prince through a gradual release of information on the killings, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called “premeditated” and tied to high levels of the Saudi government.

Trump administration officials are seeking legal ways to secure the return of Gülen as a way to placate Turkey and aid Saudi Arabia, NBC’s article by  Carol E. Lee, Julia Ainsley and Courtney Kube said.

“The effort includes directives to the Justice Department and FBI that officials reopen Turkey's case for his extradition, as well as a request to the Homeland Security Department for information about his legal status,” NBC quoted two senior officials and two other people briefed on the matter as saying.

The officials specifically sought information on the residence status of Gülen, who moved to a huge compound in Pennsylvania after the military forced Turkey’s Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan to step down in 1997. Gülen has a U.S. green card.

Turkish officials have been pushing for the preacher’s extradition since the failed coup attempt in 2016, and this was Turkey’s “main ask” again on October 17 when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Turkey, an official briefed on the meeting told NBC.

However, Turkish officials reached by NBC have denied any connection between Gülen and the Khashoggi case, which the Turkish President has taken a personal interest in since the journalist disappeared on October 2.

An official quoted by Turkish state run TRT World reiterated this position on Thursday evening.



On Thursday the Alliance for Shared Values, a nonprofit organisation that is a major part of the Gülen organisation's network in the United States, issued a statement expressing its "alarm" at the day's reports, while laying the blame squarely at Erdoğan's door.

"(The) Turkish government is attempting to turn the tragic murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi into a bargaining chip for its illegal demand," the statement said. "Sending Mr. Gulen to Turkey almost certainly would lead to his death."

Turkey has filed for extradition through official channels and presented the U.S. judiciary with boxes of evidence it says prove Gülen’s involvement in the coup attempt.

However, “officials at the Justice Department and FBI didn't find evidence that met the standard for extradition, which requires U.S. prosecutors to determine that someone committed crimes abroad that would also be illegal in the U.S.,” NBC said.

Career officials at these agencies were “furious” at the White House’s recent request to re-examine the Gülen case, NBC reported.

Trump administration officials have reportedly considered secondary options including the possibility of relocating Gülen to South Africa, though without legal justification the preacher would have to willingly agree to this.

An impending fine on Turkish state-owned Halkbank is another point of contention between the two countries that could be used as a makeweight in a deal. Halkbank faces potentially crippling fines for its part in a scheme to break sanctions on Iran. Erdoğan has said he discussed the matter with Trump during a meeting in Paris on November 10.


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