US Vice President Joe Biden apologized to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and clarified comments that had miffed Turkey’s leader, the White House said.
Biden told a forum of students at Harvard University on Thursday that Erdogan had admitted to him that Turkey had erred in closing its porous border to foreign terrorist fighters. The comments incensed Erdogan, who subsequently demanded an apology.
“Vice President Joe Biden spoke today with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to clarify recent comments made at Harvard University. The Vice President apologized for any implication that Turkey or other Allies and partners in the region had intentionally supplied or facilitated the growth of ISIL or other violent extremists in Syria,” the White House said, referring to an acronym for the extremist group also known as ISIS or the Islamic State.
“The Vice President made clear that the United States greatly values the commitments and sacrifices made by our Allies and partners from around the world to combat the scourge of ISIL, including Turkey.”
The White House readout, however, did not mention Biden’s comments about Turkey’s border.
While speaking at Harvard University on Thursday, Biden referred to Erdogan as an “old friend” — but said Turkey’s leader had admitted to him that his country had erred in allowing foreign terrorist fighters an easy route to pass in and out of Syria.
“President Erdogan told me — he’s an old friend — he said, ‘You’re right. We let too many people through.’ Now, they’re trying to seal their border,” Biden said.
Erdogan said he never made such an admission to Biden, and he said Biden would be “history for me” if he did not apologise.
“I have never said to him that we had made a mistake, never. If he did say this at Harvard then he has to apologise to us,” Erdogan said, according to The Associated Press.
“Foreign fighters have never entered Syria from our country. They may come to our country as tourists and cross into Syria, but no one can say that they cross in with their arms.”
Biden also placed blame at the feet of the US’ allies in the region, who he said were too eager to provide funding and weapons to any groups seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
This attitude, Biden said, meant Arab countries did not properly vet factions of the opposition, leading to the rise of extremist groups like ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
“The Turks, who are great friends — I have a great relationship with Erdogan, whom I spend a lot of time with. The Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing?” Biden said.
“They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad — except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”
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