The White House's top spokesman on Thursday downplayed a controversial comment that Vice President Joe Biden made in Turkey this week by saying the tensions between Washington and Ankara are not going to dissolve overnight.
Biden was in Turkey Wednesday to reassure the NATO ally that the U.S. continues to have it's back after a failed military coup that Ankara has blamed on 75-year-old Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living in Pennsylvania.
During a meeting with Turkish Speaker Ismail Kahraman, Biden said he "wish(ed) Gulen were in another country," not the United States. He later told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the U.S. is still evaluating evidence Turkey has given them against Gulen, and would abide by its system of extradition according to the law and extradition treaties.
Biden also appeared to appeal to Erdogan's point of view that Gulen is responsible, saying in his meeting with the Turkish leader that, "We will continue to abide by the system, and, God willing, there will be enough data and evidence to be able to meet the criteria that you all believe exist."
Asked about those controversial comments Thursday, Earnest downplayed Biden's remarks.
"I think the point that Vice President Biden was making is that there is a well-established process that is outlined in the extradition treaty between the United States and Turkey and in the U.S. law that governs how these kinds of requests are resolved," he said.
He acknowledged that Gulen's self-imposed exile in the U.S. and Erdogan's desire to have him extradited has created "some tension."
"And it's not tension that is going to be quickly resolved, because it's important for this process to be followed, and for the rule to be followed, and for the treaty to be adhered to," he said.
Asked whether he thought Biden misspoke when he said "God willing there will be enough evidence" to extradite Gulen, Earnest demurred.
"Listen, I wasn't in Turkey when the vice president made those remarks so I haven't had an opportunity to talk to him or his team since they're flying back from Europe now," he said. "But I think the intent of his message, I think, is consistent with what we've been saying from the beginning."