LUXEMBOURG — Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that the failed coup in Turkey has created only minor delays in the military campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and that it will not diminish Turkey’s role in the fight.
Kerry, who talked by phone three separate times Saturday with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, told CNN he was assured that the continuing turmoil will not interrupt counterterrorism efforts based in Turkey. Missions against the Islamic State are flown out of Incirlik Air Base, near the southern Turkish city of Adana. Air space was closed Saturday after the coup attempt but was reopened Sunday. Kerry said he expected that operations would return to normal “very quickly.”
“According to our commanders, there may have been a minor delay here or there or something, but it has not affected the fundamental direction or commitment to the fight,” Kerry said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” in the first of three pretaped interviews he gave in Luxembourg to the Sunday morning talk shows.
The attempted coup has exacerbated tensions between the United States and Turkey, a fellow member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Relations improved, though, after Turkey tightened its border in response to U.S. complaints to stop Islamic State fighters from crossing into the country and to keep foreign fighters from entering Syria. But since the attempted coup, Kerry has publicly, and in conversations with Cavusoglu, urged Turkey to uphold democratic principles even as it investigates the coup plotters and detains thousands of suspects.
“Obviously, there are coup plotters, and the coup plotters need to be held accountable, and they will be,” Kerry told “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos in an interview on ABC. “But I think we’re all concerned, and we have expressed that concern, that this not fuel a reach well beyond those who engaged in the coup but that they strengthen the democracy of the country, strengthen the process and use it as a moment to unite the nation.”
Kerry also has pushed back against senior Turkish officials who alleged that the United States may have played a role in the failed coup and who demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania they accused of staging the attempted coup. On Saturday, Kerry said the United States was open to the idea of extraditing Gulen, but he said Turkey must first provide evidence that meets U.S. legal standards.
“They also have to make a formal request for extradition through the judicial process. They haven’t done that yet,” he said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And that has to be accompanied by evidence and by demonstrated facts, which would lead a court to approve the extradition itself. We’re not blocking it. We’ve never had a formal request.”
Despite the edge in the rhetoric between Washington and Ankara, Kerry said on “This Week” that Turkish officials have assured the United States that they will continue to take part in the campaign against militants in bordering Syria. He attributed the temporary closing of Incirlik to the discovery that some aircraft used in the attempted coup had refueled at the base.
“But they’ve assured us, and to date we don’t see a negative drag on the effort with respect to counter ISIL,” Kerry said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
Kerry repeatedly said that the fight against the Islamic State is making progress on the battlefield. He tied the attacks in the West, including one last week in the French city of Nice, to the success in taking back territory from the militants in Syria and Iraq.
“They are on the run,” he said on CNN. “And I believe what we’re seeing are the desperate actions of an entity that sees the noose closing around them.”
Friday’s attempted coup, which started unfolding as Kerry was wrapping up talks with Russian officials in Moscow, has preoccupied him during his two-day stop in Luxembourg.
In a quiet, reflective moment before departing for Brussels, Kerry paid his respects at the Luxembourg American Cemetery where more than 5,000 U.S. service members from World War II are buried, including Gen. George S. Patton. Most of the dead lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge and in the advance to the Rhine River. There is only one woman, a nurse, buried at the cemetery.
Kerry and Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, laid roses at the memorial site that has been erected before a field of white crosses and Stars of David for servicemen who died between the end of 1944 and 1945. Kerry also laid a white rose and a State Department commemorative coin at each of the graves of two brothers from Massachusetts who are buried side by side.