The White House reportedly considered extraditing Fethullah Gulen, an influential cleric who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a 2016 coup, to stop Ankara’s investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s death.
But a senior Turkish official on Friday said it wouldn’t work, telling Reuters: “We have no intention to intervene in the Khashoggi investigation in return for any political or legal favor.”
The White House denied looking into extraditing Gulen, though Turkey has several times demanded they do so.
Turkey is furious at Saudi Arabia for carrying out the killing on Turkish soil, and has for weeks challenged Riyadh’s version of events and leaked key details of the investigation.
Turkey’s slow drip of leaks from the Khashoggi investigation have implicated Saudi Arabia’s top leadership in a cover-up, putting pressure on the US to cut its ties with the kingdom.
Turkey said any US attempt to hush its investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s death won’t work after the White House reportedly considered extraditing an influential Turkish cleric that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for an attempted 2016 coup to quiet the probe.
NBC News reported on Thursday that the White House was looking for legal ways to deport Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric whose followers Erdogan has called “terrorists,” in exchange for Turkey taking pressure off the Saudi government over Khashoggi’s killing.
US national security and foreign policy experts were stunned by the report, and former National Security Council senior director Ned Price told INSIDER: “This is the Trump administration seeking to barter away a US resident who has lived here legally for years,” adding that such a move would be “seeking to skirt the rule of law.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert rejected the NBC News report on Thursday, saying: “The White House has not been involved in any discussions related to the extradition of Fethullah Gulen.”
Read more: Trump administration’s reported effort to ‘barter’ a US resident to convince Turkey to ramp down Khashoggi probe stuns foreign-policy veterans
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who wrote critical articles about his government for The Washington Post, died inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely believed to be responsible for the death, though Saudi officials have gone to great lengths to absolve him of the crime.
But Ankara, which has provided media a steady drip of leaks implicating Saudi leadership in its ongoing investigation into Khashoggi’s death, has ruled out any sort of cooperation with the US to ramp down its investigation.
An unnamed senior Turkish official told Reuters on Friday: “At no point did Turkey offer to hold back on the Khashoggi investigation in return for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition. We have no intention to intervene in the Khashoggi investigation in return for any political or legal favor.”
An unnamed Turkish official also told NBC News on Thursday that the government did not link its investigation into Khashoggi’s death with Gulen’s extradition case.
“We definitely see no connection between the two,” the official said. “We want to see action on the end of the United States in terms of the extradition of Gulen. And we’re going to continue our investigation on behalf of the Khashoggi case.”
Gulen is a legal US resident and a green-card holder who’s been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s. He commands a large network of followers around the world, whom Erdogan has referred to as “terrorists.”
Turkey has for weeks contradicted Saudi Arabia’s narratives of the murder and leaked details of the investigation to US and state-run media outlets.
Earlier this month Erdogan accused the “highest levels” of the Saudi leadership of being behind the killing — heavily pointing fingers at, but without naming, Crown Prince Mohammed.
The Turkish president has long emphasized the importance of national security. Experts say he likely saw Khashoggi’s killing in Istanbul as a personal affront.
Read more: Crown Prince Mohammed comes out on top of Khashoggi case that could see 5 others killed
President Donald Trump’s administration has been under pressure to punish Saudi Arabia.
On Thursday, the Treasury Department sanctioned 17 Saudi officials — including one of Crown Prince Mohammed’s top aides — over their alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s killing.
Senators also introduced a bipartisan legislation on the same day that would suspend the sale of weapons to Riyadh and block the refueling of Saudi coalition warplanes involved in the deadly civil war in Yemen.
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