President Donald Trump congratulated Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday on the country’s recent referendum granting Erdogan sweeping new powers, according to a White House readout of the call.
The call came after the State Department took a different, tougher tack that appeared to show qualms about the legitimacy of the vote. Trump’s call also seemed to contradict a White House spokesman who earlier in the day said the administration wanted to wait and see what election monitors learned about the vote.
The differing statements underscored the continuing difficulty facing the Trump administration in managing its foreign policy messaging. It also underscored the tricky nature of U.S. relations with Turkey, a critical NATO ally whose leader has shown autocratic tendencies.
“President Donald J. Trump spoke today with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to congratulate him on his recent referendum victory and to discuss the United States’ action in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons on April 4th,” the White House said in a readout statement Monday, adding that the president had thanked Erdogan for his support of Trump’s recent military action in Syria.
The White House said Trump and Erdogan also discussed counter-terrorism tactics and “the need to cooperate against all groups that use terrorism to achieve their ends” of defeating the Islamic State. The Turkish government confirmed the conversation in a statement Monday.
Erdogan’s historic constitutional referendum claimed victory Sunday by a margin of 51.4 to 48.6 percent. It serves to drastically consolidate power in the executive branch, eliminating the existing parliamentary system for a presidential model that would have him serve as both head of state and of the government.
Erdogan’s expansion of powers has faced criticism both within Turkey and internationally, with opposition leaders and global watchdogs alike alleging voting irregularities in the process.
The White House’s congratulatory tone made no mention of alleged voting irregularities in the Turkish referendum — a distinct contrast with the State Department. Acting State Department spokesperson Mark Toner pointed to a report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe detailing an “unlevel playing” in the Turkish campaign as cause potential issue in assessing the referendum.
SOURCE: CRISTIANO LIMA