Turkey's opposition leader meets US ambassador amid political turmoil

Turkey's opposition leader meets US ambassador amid political turmoil

Hüseyin Hayatsever & Göksel Bozkurt ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkeys opposition leader meets US ambassador amid political turmoil

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. DHA photo

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone hosted main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu over a lunch held at the Embassy residence on Dec. 19, as a corruption and bribery probe targeting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s allies continued to rock the country.

CHP deputy chairs Faruk Loğoğlu, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Şafak Pavey, as well as CHP lawmakers Osman Korutürk and Aykan Erdemir, also attended the lunch.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News after the meeting, Loğoğlu stressed that the lunch had been scheduled more than 10 days ago, upon the invitation of the U.S. ambassador, in order to exchange views over the CHP leader’s recent visit to Washington D.C.

Accompanied by a large delegation, Kılıçdaroğlu paid a four-day visit to the U.S. capital at the beginning of December and held a series of talks with officials, including a special assistant to President Barack Obama and members of Congress. He also delivered a number of speeches and attended gatherings at civil society think tanks.

Loğoğlu said all party officials who attended the lunch with Ricciardone were among the CHP delegation that visited Washington, and shared their impressions of the trip.

“The U.S. ambassador said it was a normal thing for any ambassador to meet with leaders of the opposition. But it’s not being perceived this way in Turkey,” he added.

The meeting took place at a time when Turkey has been shaken by a corruption and bribery operation, which included the sons of three ministers being taking into custody, as well as a number of prominent businessmen and bureaucrats. In comments on social media, pro-government critics have labeled the timing of the CHP’s meeting with the U.S. ambassador “meaningful,” suggesting the involvement of “external forces” in the ongoing struggle between the government and Gülen movement, with particular emphasis on the alleged role of the U.S., where Gülen resides.

Loğoğlu chided such comments as “conspiracy theories.”

“According to them, everything is a conspiracy and a provocation. But they never speak about corruption or bribery. They still suppose they can deceive people with their conspiracy theories and delusions,” he said.

The recent corruption operation was one of the topics of their discussions during the lunch, the CHP deputy chair added, noting that they had reiterated their views on the issue that they had previously made public.

“As he said before, Kılıçdaroğlu voiced his opinion that the ministers [whose sons have been taken into custody] should leave their posts, in order to safely conduct the judicial process. Ricciardone, for his part, said the U.S. favored democracy and transparency for Turkey, as they do for all countries,” Loğoğlu said.

CHP Deputy Chair Sezgin Tanrıkulu also denounced conspiracy theories based on the timing of the meeting.

Party officials reportedly considered whether or not to cancel the visit, but eventually decided to go ahead with it, taking into account that such a cancellation would cause further speculation.

“If we had canceled our meeting on the basis that it might be misinterpreted due to the corruption investigation, it would have shown a lack of self-confidence. We do know what and where to speak. We can voice our views, which we also voiced behind closed-doors, publicly. We have such confidence,” Tanrıkulu said.

Just a day before the meeting with Turkey’s main opposition leader, U.S. officials stressed that Washington had no intention to get involved in what it described as “a family fight,” denying suggestions that the U.S. had a role in the ongoing struggle.

“Please don’t draw us into your family fight here. We don’t want one side or the other to feed this conspiracy idea that we are against the prime minister, or against Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi,” U.S. officials told the Daily News on Dec. 18. The same message was also delivered to the Turkish government through diplomatic channels on the same day.