Washington Post correspondents Souad Mekhennet and Thomas Gibbons-Neff interviewed Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Tuesday at his offices in Ankara. The 30-minute interview was conducted in English. Cavusoglu spoke forcefully about Fethullah Gulen, an opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a U.S. resident, who the Turkish government believes was behind the coup attempt. And the minister made it clear that Turkey — a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL — expects Gulen’s extradition. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Justice and State departments will review material Turkey has presented. Following is a condensed version of the interview:
WP: Is the country secure?
MC: It was a coup attempt we have faced on the 15th of July, and everything is under control right now, but I cannot say that the threat is 100 percent away. Therefore, we are taking some measures, investigations continue, and legal actions are also taken against this group.
WP: Some people in the United States and Europe raised concerns that now, after the coup, the Turkish government has used this as an excuse to get rid of any critical people.
MC: It is us who faced this coup attempt, not the United States or the European Union. We have been trying to explain how dangerous this Gulen terrorist organization is. Some of [our] colleagues couldn’t understand and believe it, and some of them didn’t want to understand. As I explained to [Secretary of State] John Kerry last night on the phone, this is a matter of national security to us. You saw how they randomly killed people with helicopters, jets, cannons — they bombed the Turkish parliament. In our history we had very bloody coups and we suffered a lot; we have lost young generations. But none of these coups have ever targeted the Turkish parliament.
WP: Is Secretary Kerry on board for the actions Turkey is taking? Did he give you full support?
MC: No, I didn’t say that he gave full support. I just explained why we are taking certain actions, and I think he understood. For instance, why many judges and prosecutors were taken out of their positions. It’s because we knew they had affiliations or belonged to this group. Therefore, we have to take these actions.
WP: Turkey has an intelligence services and a strong security structure. How was it possible that the planning for this plot was able to happen without anyone realizing it?
MC: We are talking about a very closed circle of people who were involved in the plotting. It is not that easy to identify. You know the person who was working with the chief of staff for eight years held a pistol on his forehead. [He] didn’t know that this person belonged to this group. It was very difficult for us to identify these people.
WP: What are you expecting from your allies?
MC: We want our allies to have an honest stance and be a real friend that we can rely on, particularly in difficult days.
WP: Do you think the United States, where Mr. Gulen resides right now, understands your position and concerns?
MC: They should understand; they don’t need any evidence. I explained to John Kerry for more than 20 minutes in his office. . . . And in that meeting Kerry told me that he understood very well and would get more information about this group from his intelligence service. And President Erdogan also explained the situation to President Obama very well. Maybe they couldn’t understand how dangerous this group is because [Gulen] is living in Pennsylvania. . . . But after this terrorist attack they must understand; he is the head of a terrorist organization.
WP: Did you provide the U.S. with evidence for your allegations against Mr. Gulen?
MC: Actually the U.S. doesn’t need evidence, but we are going to give them evidence to take action. When the U.S. had 9/11, when the U.S. was after Osama bin Laden, and when the U.S. asked the Taliban to give them bin Laden, there was no legal evidence or decisions that the U.S. were submitting to the Taliban to hand over this terrorist. Of course, we will add this coup attempt to the file, but it is very obvious and the U.S. knows very well that he is involved and he is behind and leading this attack.
WP: If the U.S. will not act according to your expectations — to extradite Mr. Gulen — how will this affect the relationship between the United States and Turkey?
MC: It has already affected the feelings and opinions of the Turkish people badly. We are against anti-American sentiments in our society. But support for the U.S. went down since the Iraq War, unfortunately. We did our best to balance this in the past. The U.S. must understand the feelings of 80 million Turkish people and, therefore, if the U.S. doesn’t take the action — and this is not a threat — it is inevitable that this will influence relations, unfortunately. Can you imagine Turkey’s worst terrorist is living in the United States and targeting the Turkish nation? This is for us unacceptable.
WP: Could this also affect Turkey’s participation in the coalition fighting ISIS?
MC: ISIL is our common enemy. ISIL is targeting Turkey. Even if we are left alone, we must fight ISIL because they are just living on the other side of the border. We are the first and foremost target of ISIL. Why should it affect our fight against ISIL or any other terrorist organization? The United States is our ally, and we give a lot of importance to our relations and we are doing a great job for our region together, as Turkey and the USA. And we opened our Incirlik Air Base for the U.S. and other allies. We are fighting together to bring stability in Syria and Iraq. We have many common targets.