No US planning, support, knowledge in coup attempt in Turkey: Ambassador
Ali Kayalar – ISTANBUL
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass has strongly refuted recent media reports and accusations that his country was involved in or had any advance knowledge of the July 15 failed coup attempt in Turkey, while also elaborating on how he personally and his staff in Ankara experienced the night of the attempt.
“I continue to be deeply disturbed and offended by the accusations without a shred of fact in so much of the commentary in this country that the United States government was involved in this illegal coup attempt or must have known about this illegal coup attempt, and I just want to say again, as I’ve said before and as we’ve said from Washington, the United States government did not plan, direct, support or have any advance knowledge of any of the illegal activities that occurred the night of July 15 and into July 16 , Full stop,” Bass told a group of journalist in Istanbul on Aug. 4.
“Frankly, if we would have had knowledge we would have told the Turkish government about it immediately, just as we bring to the attention of this government information about threats that it or its citizens face from terrorist organizations operating in Turkey,” the envoy said.
“The United States wants to see a strong, prosperous, democratic, confident Turkey contributing to dealing with the many challenges we face in the three regions that Turkey is part of, and we’re not going to be able to be successful in dealing with all of those challenges if Turkey is not strong and confident and democratic and prosperous. And anyone who thinks that the United States somehow profits from Turkey being divided and destabilized I think is misreading history to a profound degree.”
Bass said he first realized the uprising when he saw jets flying at low attitudes over the Turkish capital at around 10 p.m. on July 15.
“I learned of the coup attempt when I was standing on the lawn at the residence looking down over the city and saw the jets making their first passes over the center of the city,” he said.
“I got home about 9:30 [p.m.] and some of my colleagues were having a birthday party at the residence, so I went down to see them, and suddenly there was all this strange activity in the air,” he elaborated.
The envoy said he received a phone call from a Turkish official at around 11:15 p.m.
“It was someone from the Foreign Ministry calling to inform me that what we were seeing and hearing and experiencing was an illegal, a set of illegal activities that were not sanctioned by the government and that appeared to be an effort to undertake a coup. Asking for our support and asking me to convey that information from the Turkish government to Washington, which I undertook to do very quickly,” Bass said.
“People make assumptions that there was perfect knowledge, when in fact many of us were operating in a fact vacuum where we were struggling to understand what was going on, particularly at a point in time when operations were being conducted against the Turkish National Police Academy in Gölbaşı and the parliament more or less simultaneously. Sitting in the embassy, we felt the explosions at parliament. Our building shook.”
Bass said the embassy was constantly in touch with “very senior people in the U.S. government” that night.
He also evaluated the intelligence side of the issue.
“Like everyone in this society we were shocked and surprised. And I think that’s a reflection of the extent to which the planning was clearly hidden from view. How they were able to do that? We’ll look forward to understanding better as we receive more information from the Turkish government as it conducts its own investigations into how this could have happened,” he said.
While responding to a question on whether he had any doubt - personally and officially- that U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen was behind the coup attempt, the ambassador pointed to the testimony of Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, who was taken hostage by the plotters with some other member of the top brass during the uprising and who later said the plotters wanted to put him on the phone with Gülen.
“As someone who is living here, talking with a lot of people, including people like General Akar, who has recounted what he experienced that night, I find it a very powerful testimony. Beyond that, I don’t want to offer any views because again, of what I said earlier. I don’t want to say anything that potentially makes it harder for the Turkish government to pursue justice for those who are responsible,” he said.
When asked if the public discussions in Turkey about the extradition of Gülen would have a negative effect on the legal process in the U.S., Bass said, “I certainly hope not. “
“And to the extent the discussions are focused on generalities about the coordination between the two governments, you know, that would seem to me to not impact the case. But I say that as someone who is not a legal expert. I’m not a lawyer. And one of the reasons, again, we’re being so careful in what we say publicly is because we don’t want to have that effect. But I think any time the conversation gets into detail, you know, potentially that, any U.S. court proceeding might be problematic if it’s public information. I just, I don’t know,” he said.
“We support the Turkish government in bringing to justice the people who were responsible for this illegal coup attempt. And there is a good bit of discussion and work underway between the two governments to support the Turkish government’s effort to do that, to bring these people to justice,” he added.
Turkey has suspended, detained or arrested thousands of military and police personnel since the coup attempt over links to Gülen. Commenting on whether this would have a negative effect on the joint counterterrorism efforts by Ankara and Washington, Bass said: “We’ve gotten very strong reassurances and signals from the Turkish government of its determination to continue to work closely with the United States and other members of the coalition. And we respect that and continue to work together to address this terrible set of threats we both face.”
Business ties between the U.S. and Turkey was another concern for the envoy.
“I’ve spent a lot of my time over the last couple of weeks talking to U.S. companies about the investment climate here, about the climate for Americans in Turkey, and I’ve been hearing from a lot of companies about their concerns that this upsurge in anti-Americanism potentially will have an impact on their businesses,” he said.