As the US and Saudi Arabia continue to try to clean up the mess caused by the killing of a journalist in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the White House is said to be exploring a controversial way to appease Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Trump administration officials have in recent weeks pressed law-enforcement authorities on the possibility of extraditing, or deporting, Turkish opposition leader Fethullah Gulen, according to a report on Thursday from NBC News.
Erdogan has been pleading with the US to extradite Gulen ever since a failed coup attempt in 2016. The Turkish government credits the exiled cleric with orchestrating the attempted takeover, and has accused him of leading an “armed terrorist organization.”
The White House is said to have asked federal law-enforcement agencies to look at possible ways to remove Gulen from the country as part of efforts to smooth over tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that flared up in the wake of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
Specifically, the moves include directives to the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation that officials reopen the case filed by Turkey for Gulen’s extradition, and requests to immigration officials to examine his residency status, NBC reported, citing two “senior US officials” and two other sources briefed on the requests.
Gulen currently has a green card and has been a resident in the US for two decades.
“At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious,” one senior official was quoted as saying.
While there had been some speculation that Turkey raised the issue of Gulen during negotiations for the release of a US pastor detained by Turkey, officials in Ankara said Gulen’s case was completely unrelated to the Khashoggi killing.
The NBC report comes as Saudi Arabia announced that prosecutors would seek the death penalty for individuals suspected of involvement in the killing, and as the US Treasury Department announced it would slap sanctions on 17 Saudi individuals.