WASHINGTON (AP) — Did Vice President Joe Biden really apologize 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 the Islamic State group’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 apologized,” Biden said in a CNN interview. “I never apologized 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 IS 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 Islamic State extremists — seeking to depose the Syrian regime. He made similar comments about Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — two Arab nations in Obama’s coalition.
“They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons in to anyone who would fight against Assad,” Biden said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad. He added that some of those assets ended up in the hands al-Qaeda-linked groups.
Days later, both the vice president’s office and the White House said in no uncertain terms that Biden had apologized to Erdogan.
“I think the vice president was pretty candid about why he owed President Erdogan an apology, because he had mischaracterized his private remarks,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at that time.
Asked about the discrepancy, Biden’s office wouldn’t say Monday whether it stood by its earlier statement that Biden apologized. 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 IS extremists.
The vice president’s office also said Biden was still looking forward to meeting with Erdogan this month.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press