Washington: Did US Vice-President Joe Biden really apologise to Turkey’s president? The White House says he did, but Biden says he did not.
In early October, Biden placed phone calls to three US allies as he attempted to smooth over a diplomatic spat sparked by comments he made at Harvard University. One of those calls was to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had angrily demanded an apology and said Biden “will be history for me” if it turned out he’d really accused Turkey of helping fuel Daesh’s growth.
But on Monday, Biden contradicted the White House by insisting that phone call didn’t amount to an apology.
“No, I haven’t apologised,” Biden said in a CNN interview. “I never apologised to him. I know him well. I’ve dealt with him. I called him and said, ‘Look, what was reported was not accurate to what I said. Here’s what I said.’”
It’s a minor difference — an apology versus a clarification — but perhaps not to Turkey. With tensions running high, President Barack Obama has been pressing Turkey to more actively support the US-led coalition battling Daesh militants in Syria. As part of that effort, Biden is scheduled meet with Erdogan in Turkey later this month.
In his speech at Harvard, Biden had said that Erdogan conceded to him that early in the conflict, Turkey mistakenly assisted foreign fighters — including Daesh extremists — seeking to depose the Syrian regime. He made similar comments about two other Arab nations in Obama’s coalition.
“They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tonnes of weapons in to anyone who would fight against Al Assad,” Biden said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. He added that some of those assets ended up in the hands Al Qaida-linked groups.
Days later, both the vice-president’s office and the White House said in no uncertain terms that Biden had apologised to Erdogan.
“I think the vice-president was pretty candid about why he owed President Erdogan an apology, because he had mischaracterised his private remarks,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at that time.
Asked about the discrepancy, Biden’s office wouldn’t say on Monday whether it stood by its earlier statement that Biden apologised. Instead, Biden’s office said there had been a “genuine misunderstanding” about Biden’s speech, repeating its earlier explanation that Biden never intended to imply Turkey had helped Daesh extremists.
The vice-president’s office also said Biden was still looking forward to meeting with Erdogan this month.