US Ambassador Ricciardone has talks with AK Party officials

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone met with ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officials on Monday during his visit to party headquarters in Ankara.

Speaking to the press following his more than hour-long meeting with AK Party Deputy Chairman Mehmet Ali Iahin and the party’s deputy chairman for foreign affairs, Yasin Aktay, the US ambassador said local and regional issues had been on the meeting’s agenda. He said that in addition to the topics of Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Cyprus, Israel and Palestine, they had also discussed US-Turkey ties.

Answering a question on whether US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen had been discussed in the meeting, Ricciardione preferred to answer the question in English, saying: “We both agreed on the importance of keeping Turkish-American relations on a high level, away from your politics, respectful of Turkish interests and American interests. And we discussed how to aance our cooperation on all the problems of today’s world and all the opportunities as well.”

In remarks to the Hurriyet daily last week, Ricciardone revealed that the Turkish government, which has blamed the Hizmet movement inspired by Gulen for incriminating leaks relating to bribery and corruption, had raised the issue of Gulen’s extradition, although he suggested that no formal request had been made to that effect.

The Turkish government’s demand for Gulen’s extradition has produced dissent between Ankara and Washington. Although Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan said US President Barack Obama had viewed his request for Gulen to be extradited “positively” and replied by saying, “I got the message,” the White House, in a rare statement, said “the response attributed to President Obama with regard to Mr. Gulen is not accurate.”

The top US diplomat in Turkey noted that a resolution commemorating and condemning the so-called Armenian genocide, passed in the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, had also been discussed in the meeting with AK Party officials. He said, “We spoke about the things in our Congress and your Parliament and we had a very good conversation.”

After the genocide resolution passed in the committee, Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoIlu called on US authorities to prevent the actions of any lobby from provoking a deterioration in US-Turkey relations. Ankara denies claims that the events of 1915 amount to genocide, arguing that both Turks and Armenians were killed when Armenians revolted against the Ottoman Empire during World War I in collaboration with the Russian army, which was then invading eastern Anatolia.

Answering a question on whether he had congratulated, Melih Gökçek, who has been serving as Ankara mayor for 20 years, on being re-elected in the March 30 local elections, Ricciardione said: “I congratulated all of the mayors. We have talked about that. I have nothing but respect for Mayor Gökçek and I congratulated the party and all the great success it has around the country.”

In late January Gökçek claimed to have asked Ricciardone about his alleged remarks circulating in the Turkish media that ErdoIan and the AK Party administration would be removed from power by November or December of last year, adding that the US ambassador had not denied these remarks. The US Embassy in Ankara again denied Gökçek’s statement, which had appeared in the Sabah daily.

(CihanToday’s Zaman) C