U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is to visit Turkey on August 24 amid tensions between Ankara and Western powers over a massive crackdown on dissent following the country’s abortive coup attempt last month.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the White House announced the visit on August 13 -- the first by a high-ranking U.S. official since the failed coup.
Speaking to journalists in Istanbul, Yildirim again urged the United States to extradite U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen -- blamed by Ankara for orchestrating the July 15 coup attempt.
Gulen, who runs a worldwide network of charities and schools, has denied any involvement.
Ankara has branded Gulen's movement a terror organization and wants him returned to Turkey to face trial. Washington has said previously it would need evidence of the cleric's involvement.
"Improving our relations with the United States depends on the extradition of Gulen, and on that issue there is no room for negotiation," Yildirim said, according to CNN Turk.
The daily Hurriyet quoted the prime minister as also saying the U.S. stance on extradition was "getting better," without elaborating.
In another development, reported by state-run Anadolu news agency, the Istanbul chief prosecutor's office submitted an official request for Gulen’s detention to Turkey's Justice Ministry for it to be relayed to U.S. authorities.
On August 12, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag announced that a delegation from the U.S. Justice Department and State Department will be arriving by August 22 to discuss Turkey’s extradition request.
Yildirim also told journalists on August 13 that a total of 81,494 people including judges, soldiers, and civil servants had either been suspended or dismissed since the abortive July 15 putsch in which more than 270 people died.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to rid Turkey of the Gulen network, which has a large presence in Turkey’s security forces, judiciary, and civil service.
However, the extent of the purge has come under criticism from the United States, EU, and human rights organizations amid fears Erdogan is using the purge to tighten his grip on power.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry on August 13 sharply criticized a top UN human rights official for saying Ankara should stem its "thirst for revenge" after the failed coup attempt.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said the UN official's comments were unacceptable. Bilgic also denied people's rights were being violated in the crackdown.
"It is at best an unfortunate statement for a UN official tasked with guarding human rights to say 'he has no sympathy' for coup plotters instead of condemning these terrorists who have attempted a bloody coup," Bilgic said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein called on Ankara earlier this week to uphold the rights of detainees held since the failed putsch.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP