Biden blasting Erdoğan in an interview sweeps through Turkish social media

(Updates with full transcript of NY Times interview, about the origin of the interview)

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in a clip taken from what appears to be an episode of FX’s The Weekly, spoke of his vision for U.S. relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, saying he would embolden Turkish opposition to defeat Turkey's strongman in elections if he became president.

Biden also called Erdoğan an "autocrat," adding, "He’s the president of Turkey and a lot more."

Biden said his comfort level about the U.S. still having nuclear weapons in Turkey given Erdoğan's behaviour "is diminished a great deal."

The Weekly is a documentary series covering the developmen iconic headlines by the New York Times. In the January 19 episode titled The Endorsement, the NYT editorial board interviewed all Democratic candidates, making public for the first time the process behind the endorsement the newspaper makes at every U.S. election.

The story first appeared on Arabic media on Thursday, and was picked up by Kurdish media on Saturday. The video clip appeared on Saturday, posted on Twitter by Kurdish journalist Arif Zêrevan. Later on, it is understood that the full interview and the transcript of the interview available at New York Times.

Biden repeatedly says he is "very concerned" about developments in Turkey, calling for "a very different approach” to Erdoğan by "engaging" with the elements of the Turkish opposition leadership as he did during his vice presidency.

"We can support those elements in the Turkish leadership that still exist and get more from them, embolden them to be able to take on and defeat Erdoğan,” Biden said, “not by a coup,” but via the electoral process.

Erdoğan “got blown out in Istanbul,” the Democratic nominee said, referring to the defeat of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the local elections last year. The AKP lost most of Turkey’s big cities in the March elections, including Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Antalya, Diyarbakır and Eskişehir.

Biden, during Barack Obama’s second term as president in particular, engaged closely with the Turkish opposition, including meeting with critical journalists and activists during visits to Istanbul.

Current U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration “yielded to” Erdoğan in Syria, Biden said. “The last thing I would have done is to yield to him with regards to the Kurds.”

After AKP’s electoral defeat, the Turkish military started an incursion into Syria dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” dealing a blow to the Syrian Kurds. Preceded by operations Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Olive Branch to seize Afrin in 2018, the incursion coincided with a nationwide crackdown against the Kurdish political movement. Pro-Kurdish party leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and thousands of members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP) have been jailed since 2016. 

"At the end of the day, Turkey doesn't want to rely on Russia. They’ve had a bite out of that apple a long time ago. But they’ve got to understand, that we are not going to continue to play with them the way we have," Biden said.

Biden concluded by saying that the United States needs to work harder with allies “to isolate (Erdoğan's) actions” in the region, particularly in Eastern Mediterreanean, including oil exploration and other issues.

Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote about the close friendship between the two presidents in his recent tell-all book, and about U.S. Special Envoy to Syria James Jeffrey, who Bolton calls “a pro-Erdoğan and anti-Kurdish senior figure”, helping to negotiate for Turkey’s operation in Syria, which started after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Kurdish-held areas.

The full transcript of the interview on New York Times' January 19th, 2020 edition and the part regarding to Turkey follows:

NYT: Do you feel comfortable with the United States still having nuclear weapons in Turkey given Erdogan’s behavior?

The United States has about 50 nuclear weapons based in Turkey. This began to stir public debate after Turkey’s offensive into Syria in October.

The answer is my comfort level is diminished a great deal. I’ve spent a lot of time with Erdogan.

More than anybody in our administration did because Erdogan concluded that he’d only talk to me because he thought I wasn’t anti-Islam. Remember when I made that speech to NATO saying, when he got elected, “You had to reach out. This is an opportunity to bring another Muslim country.” And you knew why they were acting the way they did in other countries in Europe, to not reach out at all for the first election. We have had —

NYT: You mean because of anti-Muslim bias?

Yeah. I’ve spent a lot of time with him. He is an autocrat. He’s the president of Turkey and a lot more. What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership. Making it clear that we are in a position where we have a way which was working for a while to integrate the Kurdish population who wanted to participate in the process in their parliament, etc. Because we have to speak out about what we in fact think is wrong. He has to pay a price. He has to pay a price for whether or not we’re going to continue to sell certain weapons to him. In fact, if he has the air defense system that they’re flying F-15s through to see how they can try to figure out how to do it. 

So I’m very concerned about it. I’m very concerned about it. But I’m still of the view that if we were to engage more directly like I was doing with them, that we can support those elements of the Turkish leadership that still exist and get more from them and embolden them to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process. He got blown out. He got blown out in Istanbul, he got blown out in his party. So what do we do now? We just sit there, and yielded. And the last thing I would’ve done is yielded to him with regard to the Kurds. The absolute last thing. 

I had a couple of those meetings with him about the Kurds, and they did not clamp down at the time. We have to make it clear that if they’re looking to, because, at the end of the day, Turkey doesn’t want to have to rely on Russia. They’ve had a bite out of that apple a long time ago. But they got to understand that we’re not going to continue to play with them the way we have. So I am very concerned. I am very concerned. I’m very concerned about our airfields and access to them as well. And I think it takes an awful lot of work for us to be able to get together with our allies in the region and deal with how we isolate his actions in the region, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean in relating to oil and a whole range of other things which take too long to go into. But the answer is yes, I’m worried.