Turkey in a Stir Over Biden Remarks Backing Erdogan’s Ouster


An old video of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden calling for the removal of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has set off a furor in Turkey while earning U.S. President Donald Trump a shout-out.

In a Dec. 16 meeting with New York Times editors, Biden called Erdogan an “autocrat” and advocated that the U.S. “embolden” his opponents to defeat him at the ballot box.

“What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership,” Biden said. The video, which resurfaced on Saturday and has since become the hot topic in Turkey, checked out against a transcript of the meeting the newspaper published.

A backlash soon followed.

“No one can attack the will of the nation and the democracy, and question the legitimacy of Turkey’s president,” Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, fumed on Twitter. “We believe that the current U.S. administration would find these undiplomatic remarks unseemly of a presidential candidate of our NATO ally.”

Ties between the U.S. and Turkey have been strained for years over multiple issues, including Ankara’s purchase of Russian missile defense systems and U.S. support of a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey says has designs on its territory. Tensions have been eased by positive chemistry between Erdogan and Trump, a mitigating factor that could evaporate if Biden wins the November presidential election.

“It’s very interesting for a presidential candidate who has also served as a vice president to make such mistakes,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. Cavusoglu and Pompeo discussed issues of mutual concern, including the urgent need to reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

It’s not clear who initially dredged up the months-old footage, which didn’t create a stir when Biden’s remarks were originally published. But even Turkey’s main opposition party was in an uproar.

“Our democracy and endeavor for freedom do not need any imperialist favors,” Faik Oztrak, the spokesman for Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said on Twitter. “Independence is our character,”

The video is “the biggest support that any U.S. government has ever given to Mr. Erdogan’s government since 2002,” tweeted Deniz Ulke Aribogan, a lecturer on political science and international relations at Uskudar University in Istanbul.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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