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White House denies 'informal discussion' is snub to Turkey’s Erdogan

Kayhan Ozer, Turkish presidency / AFP | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holding a joint press conference with his Romanian counterpart in Ankara on March 23, 2016

US President Barack Obama will hold only an “informal discussion” with Tayyip Erdogan in Washington this week, in what was seen by some as a snub to the Turkish president who was also recently lampooned on German television.


The White House has dismissed suggestions that the lack of a formal meeting represented a deliberate slight to the Turkish leader, even if Washington has sharply criticised Ankara over its military campaign against Kurdish rebels and intimidation of independent media.

Erdogan will be among more than 50 world leaders attending a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on Thursday and Friday, during which time he is due to have a formal meeting with Vice President Joe Biden.

There had been intense speculation in the Turkish media over whether Obama would meet Erdogan, with some suggesting a failure to do so would be a deliberate snub of Turkey’s international and domestic policies.

“I would expect that over the course of the visit, the president will have an opportunity at some point to have at least an informal discussion with President Erdogan,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama on Air Force One on Tuesday.

Earnest pointed to the large number of foreign leaders due to attend the summit as a reason for Obama’s failure to schedule an official meeting with Erdogan. “There obviously is a lot of important work to do with our allies in Turkey,” he added.

Growing criticism

Even though they are NATO allies, Washington and Ankara are sharply divided over a Kurdish militia in northern Syria. The militia has enjoyed US military support but Turkey sees it as a threat to its own national security.

The US has also grown increasingly critical of Turkey’s record on freedom of expression. Biden said during a visit in January that Turkey was setting a poor example in intimidating media and accusing academics of treason.

Erdogan, meanwhile, said on Tuesday he wanted US authorities to take steps against a network of schools run by a movement affiliated with Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric whom Erdogan has accused of plotting to overthrow him.

Not funny

Meanwhile, Erdogan was recently ridiculed in a German video parody, sparking a small diplomatic row between Ankara and Berlin.

Germany’s ambassador to Turkey was summoned to the foreign ministry last week over the music video, a Turkish official confirmed on Tuesday.

Ankara demanded that the public broadcaster that aired it on March 17 cease showing it, according to a ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

The German-language song, which can still be seen on broadcaster ARD's website and on social media, alludes to the imprisonment of opposition journalists and allegations that Turkey prefers to take action against Kurdish rebels rather than the Islamic State group.

Its lyrics include: "A journalist who writes something that doesn't suit Erdogan will be in the slammer tomorrow."

"He made clear in these conversations that the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and protection of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press and freedom expression, are valuable goods that must be protected together," the ministry said.

The German Federation of Journalists' chairman, Frank Ueberall, said that Erdogan "apparently has lost his grip".

Ueberal added in a statement that the president's indignation is "laughable" but said people shouldn't overlook the fact that "the persecution of critical journalists is a bitter reality in Turkey".

More than 1,800 cases have been opened against people accused of insulting Erdogan since he came to office in 2014, under a previously seldom-used law against insulting the president. Those who have gone on trial include celebrities, journalists and even schoolchildren.

The Turkish official said a number of foreign envoys are being summoned to the ministry for a formal protest about a group of diplomats who last week attended the trial of two opposition journalists.


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