U.S. Sides With Turkey: Kurdish Militias Must Retreat East of Euphrates

U.S. Vice President Biden arrives in Turkey for first visit since failed attempt to overthrow Erdogan, calls for patience on extradition of Muslim cleric Gulen.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) shakes hands with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim following a joint news conference in Ankara, Turkey, August 24, 2016.
Reuters Stringer

The United States has made it clear to Syrian Kurdish forces that they must return to east of the Euphrates river after seizing control of the Syrian town of Manbij to retain U.S. support, Vice President Joe Biden said on Wednesday. 

Biden was speaking during a visit to Turkey alongside Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim who said the U.S. should reassess its support for the Kurdish militia to prevent an increase in danger. 

Ankara has said it expects Syrian Kurdish fighters to withdraw across the river after the Manbij victory by the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters. Ankara considers the Kurdish YPG in Syria as a hostile force. 

Biden also sought to assuage concerns in Turkey that the U.S. was shielding the Muslim Cleric Fethullah Gulen, widely considered by the Turkish government as having a hand behind a failed coup attempt on July 15.

"We have no, no, no, no interest whatsoever in protecting anyone who has done harm to an ally. None," Biden said. 

But the vice president also called on Turkish authorities to be patient with the U.S. legal system in dealing with Gulen's potential extradition to Turkey.

"I understand the intense feeling your government and the people of Turkey have about him," Biden said at news conference after meeting with Yildirim. "We are cooperating with Turkish authorities.

"Our legal experts are working right now with their Turkish counterparts on the production of and the evaluation of material and evidence that needs to be supplied to an American court to meet the requirements under our law in the extradition treaty to extradite Gulen."

He also warned that President Barack Obama wouldn't intervene in the extradition process.

"We should make clear under American law that no president of the United States has authority to extradite anyone under his own power, that only an American court can do that.

"Were a president to attempt to do that, it would be an impeachable offense," he said.

Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have repeatedly called on the U.S. to swiftly extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania in self-imposed exile.

Gulen has denied any involvement in the July 15 coup attempt that killed more than 270 people.

The formal extradition request for his alleged involvement in the coup will be submitted next week, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said Wednesday.

"It's never understood that the wheels of justice move deliberately and slowly," Biden said. "It's totally understandable why the people of Turkey are angry. But there should be no doubt that we will continue to work closely with the Turkish government as this process unfolds."

Biden also rejected suggestions that the U.S. government knew about plans for a coup in advance.

"The United States of America did not have any fore-knowledge of what befell you on the 15th of July," he said.

Turkey's prime minister again called on the U.S. to speed up the process in the Gulen case.

"If the process can be sped up for (Gulen) to be returned to our country in order to be punished, if our cooperation in this regard continues to grow, then the Turkish people's sorrow, its disappointment in this regard will quickly give way to positive sentiments," Yildirim said.

Earlier, Biden toured the sections of parliament damaged during the coup attempt.

A small group of young demonstrators protested Biden's motorcade as he headed to Yildirim's residence, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Anti-American sentiment has been on the rise in Turkey since the coup. Biden hopes to smooth relations, but has limited leverage.