Trump Congratulates Erdoğan on Referendum

In contrast to the tone of the US State Department, President Donald Trump congratulated his Turkish counterpart on Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent constitutional referendum victory in a phone call on Monday and discussed the US strikes against a Syrian airfield believed to have been involved in a chemical weapons attack on April 4.

The short, one-paragraph summary of Trump’s call, which mostly focused on Syria, was released by the White House. It states Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “to congratulate him on his recent referendum victory,” making no mention of a European observation group findings which heavily criticized the referendum process.

Trump and the State Department, headed by his nominee Rex Tillerson, haven’t always been on the same page with Vice President Mike Pence and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, taking active roles, especially in foreign visits abroad in what the White House has said is to see things for themselves.

The US State Department had highlighted “irregularities” and “an uneven playing field” found by the OSCE Referendum Observation Mission during the mission’s Monday afternoon initial findings report on the referendum.

“Those [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Referendum Observation Mission] concerns include observed irregularities on voting day and an uneven playing field during the difficult campaign period, which took place under a state of emergency,” a statement from Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson for the US State Department read, as he thanked the the work of the observation mission.

On Sunday, 51 percent of Turks voted in favor of 18 constitutional amendments greatly strengthening the role of the presidency in Turkey, allowing the president to keep his role in the politburo, and making changes to the judiciary and parliament, among others.

Turkish state media confirmed the Monday night phone call by Trump.

Regarding Syria, Erdogan and Trump “agreed on the importance of holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable,” the White House readout states, adding that Trump thanked Erdogan “for supporting this action by the United States,” referring to the United States launching about 60 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat air base in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack in the town Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.

Presidents Trump and Erdogan “also discussed the counter-ISIS campaign and the need to cooperate against all groups that use terrorism to achieve their ends,” according to the White House readout.

Erdogan and Trump haven’t met face-to-face yet. There were indications two months ago that the two leaders may meet ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels in May, to which both leaders’ attendance has been announced.

“Our president will attend NATO leaders’ summit during May. There will be a meeting. But preparations are underway to arrange another meeting before then,” Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesperson told reporters in February.

Turkey has long called for the US to extradite Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara has accused of orchestrating the failed July 15 military coup d’état. Gulen lives in Pennsylvania.