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Biden Vows Support For Turkey, Demurs On Cleric's Extradition

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) meets with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on August 24.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has said Washington had "unwavering support" for democracy in Turkey following last month's failed coup, but demurred on Ankara's demands to extradite the self-exiled cleric Turkey says was behind it.

Biden spoke in the Turkish capital on August 24 during a joint news conference after meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The one-day trip by the U.S. vice president was largely aimed at patching up ties damaged by the coup attempt and Turkey's impatience over U.S. reluctance to turn over Fethullah Gulen. Gulen has denied any role in the coup.

Asked when a decision would be taken on extraditing Gulen, Biden said: "How long it will take will depend on how much evidence is able to be presented. Thus far, until yesterday, there has been no evidence presented about the coup."

"When you go into an American court you cannot say 'this is a bad guy'. You have to say 'this is a guy or a woman who committed the following explicit crime'" he added.

Biden also dismissed speculation inside Turkey that the United States wanted to protect Gulen.

The United States has "no, no, no, no interest whatsoever in protecting anyone who has done harm to an ally. None. But we need to meet the legal standard requirement under our law," he said.

He also noted that the evidence presented in Turkey's extradition request was related to events before the July 15 coup.

"Can you imagine us being happy with another military state [in Turkey]? We did not get on so well with your previous military states. So what motive could we possibly have?" he added.

Combating Islamic State

Biden arrived in Ankara just hours after Turkish forces, supported by U.S. air strikes, launched a military offensive against Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Syria.

Turkish tanks and armored personnel carriers crossed the border into a part of northern Syria that has been under the control of the militants since July 2013.

Syrian rebels from the Syria Free Army also were taking part in the operation and reportedly advanced into the border town of Jarablus.

At the news conference with Biden, Erdogan said Jarablus had been recaptured by Turkish-backed rebels late August 24.

ALSO READ: Turkey Invades Syria As Race For Northern Aleppo Heats Up

The incursion was slammed by Syria’s government, which described it is a blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty and demanded an end to what it said was "aggression" being carried out under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

"Fighting terrorism cannot be undertaken by ousting [IS]...and replacing it with other terrorist organizations directly backed by Turkey,” the Syrian government said in a statement.

Biden told reporters Syria must be whole and united, and not carved into pieces.

That was seen as a veiled reference to U.S. backing for the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish rebel group that has been one of the most effective battlefield forces against Islamic State militants in Syria.

Turkey fears Kurdish successes will embolden its own sizable Kurdish minority. It also sees that group as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has carried out a three-decade insurgency in Turkey's southeast.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said on August 24 that Syrian Kurdish fighters must return to the eastern side of the Euphrates River or Turkish military forces would "do what is necessary."

Biden agreed, saying, "We have made it absolutely clear...that they [pro-Kurdish forces] must go back across the river. They cannot, will not and under no circumstances get American support if they do not keep that commitment. Period."

Earlier, after meeting with Prime Minister Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Biden said Washington put "paramount importance" on its relations with Turkey.

He said U.S. use of the Incirlik air base in southeastern Turkey "remains the lynchpin" for carrying out air strikes against Islamic State fighters.

During and for several days after the coup, Turkey shut down flight operations at Incirlik.

Biden also praised Turkey for hosting 3 million refugees that have fled the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, noting that the effort has placed an enormous burden on the country.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Anadolu
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