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Biden Attempts To Smooth Relations With Turkey After Coup Attempt

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Turkey is an important ally to the U.S. That's why Vice President Joe Biden went there today to try to smooth things over. Relations have been particularly tough between the two countries since the failed military coup in Turkey last month. Many Turks accuse the U.S. of being involved. So Joe Biden wanted to reassure Turkey's leadership the U.S. supports them. And his visit coincided with a Turkish offensive in Syria with U.S. support against ISIS. NPR's Peter Kenyon's been following all this. And he joins us from Istanbul. Hi there.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So a mission by Vice President Joe Biden to help mend rocky relations between these two countries - how did it go?

KENYON: Well, he seems to have accomplished one thing. He has calmed down the tone. And he's quieted some of these tensions and conspiracy theories and rumors that have just been rising here among the public and fueled by a pro-government media and some officials, we must say. And one suspicion, of course, has been that the U.S. might have known in advance about the coup, if not had a role in it. Biden today denied that very emphatically. At one point, he was saying that this first news of the coup attempt took both him and President Obama completely by surprise. Here's how he put it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I remember at the time, when he and I heard the news, we weren't sure whether it was real or whether it was some concoction made up on the internet, on the web. I'm serious. It was so startling.

KENYON: So he did a lot in that regard of emotionally showing support and solidarity. He then later met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And Erdogan was quite cordial. He called the Turkey-U.S. relationship a model partnership under President Barack Obama. But he repeated the demand for the extradition of this cleric, Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Turkey for the coup. Erdogan says, OK, maybe extraditions do take a while in America. But why isn't he under provisional detention? Why is he free to keep running what Erdogan calls this terrorist organization, giving interviews, trying to shape opinion? So clearly, things are getting better, but there are areas of tension still.

MCEVERS: Another thing, as we said, that coincided with this visit by Biden is this Turkish offensive in Syria. It's something the U.S. has been wanting for a long time. How is that going?

KENYON: Well, it started with Turkish artillery, slamming ISIS targets in northern Syria. Then Turkish fighter jets got into the act - scores of targets hit. And then the tanks went rolling in. Special forces went in. And later, the Americans chimed in with their own airstrikes. So this was largely a Turkish-led operation, certainly at the start. And later in the evening, President Erdogan announced that now this important border city of Jarabulus has been taken. It's now under the control of the Free Syrian Army.

MCEVERS: And so what's your sense now? I mean is the U.S.-Turkish relationship maybe back on a more positive direction or is there still reason to worry about Turkey turning eastward, toward Russia and Iran?

KENYON: Yeah, big question. As you said, this is a key relationship, has been for decades. We saw the role today of Turkey in the anti-ISIS fight. It's also a longtime NATO member. It allows U.S. jets to use the Incirlik Air Base for strikes in Syria, key actor in the migrant crisis - it goes on and on. Both countries have good reasons to keep this relationship going. But the differences aren't going away either. And President Erdogan has already been to Moscow, might go to Tehran. So it's no time for the West to be overconfident.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thanks.

KENYON: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.