White House: Trump-Erdoğan phone call not endorsement of referendum results in Turkey

The White House’s Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, while en route to Wisconsin with President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One, told reporters during a press gaggle that a conversation on Monday between the US President and Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not indicate any acceptance of the results of a controversial referendum held in Turkey on Sunday.

“No, I think we’ve encouraged … the OSCE, the election commission, to take a close look at those election results. They’re the gold standard when it comes to that. And we certainly want them to do everything that they would normally do in that process and make a determination and put out a full report,” she said in response to a question asking if the phone call could be taken as acceptance that the results of the referendum were official, when in fact the Turkish opposition is calling for a recount, claiming irregularities in the vote.

Sanders stated that the purpose of the call was both to congratulate Erdoğan on his win and to also talk about shared interests as a NATO ally.

Asked if the phone call didn’t send a message that Trump supports the fact that Erdoğan expanded his power with the very controversial vote, Sanders disagreed and said that wasn’t the purpose of the call, adding that Trump of course supports democracy, later adding that “… we want to encourage democracy. And again, the purpose of the President’s call yesterday was not to discourage that but simply to talk about some of the things, like Syria, where they can work together,” when a reporter queried if Trump was concerned about the future of democracy in Turkey as a result of the referendum.

When pressed further about whether or not it is acceptable to Trump to have an undemocratic Turkey that is a strong ally against terrorism, Sanders said: “I don’t know that the focus, again, should be on whether or not it’s acceptable. I think the President’s number-one job is to keep Americans safe. … And if he needs to work with countries like Turkey and others to do that, I think that’s his priority and that’s what his focus is.”

However, President Erdoğan told CNN International in an interview on Monday that he is pleased by the way US President Trump is approaching things, and would like a sit-down meeting to discuss the bilateral partnership. “The way President Trump is approaching matters is encouraging, makes us happy,” said Erdoğan.

“We are going to sit down and determine a roadmap as two strategic partners, the US and Turkey, as allies, as important countries in NATO, we believe that we can resolve significant problems,” he added. “Therefore we do not have any difficulties on that front,” Erdoğan said. “We agreed we will have that meeting in due course,” he added.


Meanwhile, Turkish police have detained a total of 38 people in İstanbul who took part in demonstrations in protest of a decision by the Turkey’s Supreme Board of Election (YSK) to consider unstamped ballots cast in a public referendum on Sunday valid. The detainees were reportedly taken to the İstanbul Police Office on Wednesday morning.

A referendum on a constitutional reform package that introduces an executive presidency in Turkey received 51.4 percent of the vote in favor, but opposition parties have contested the results due to the use of unauthenticated ballots. Late on Sunday, the YSK issued instructions that significantly changed the ballot validity criteria and said the unauthenticated ballots were valid.

The constitutional amendments that will switch Turkey’s system of governance from a parliamentary to a executive presidency, greatly increasing the powers of the president and feared by opposition parties as establishing one-man rule in the country.

During the voting on Sunday, some citizens cast their votes in unstamped ballots while some citizens used envelopes and ballots they brought with them, which prompted some opposition parties and naysayers to raise suspicions about the votes’ validity. In a statement on Monday morning, the YSK said the ballot papers and envelopes brought by some citizens from outside were produced by the YSK and they are authentic. Demonstrations have been held across Turkey to protest the YSK decision to consider the unstamped ballots valid.

On the other hand, İbrahim Karagül, editor-in-chief of the pro-Erdoğan Yeni Şafak daily, said that Sunday’s street protests of the results of a referendum held that day will be taken as foreign intervention. “Gezi [Park protests]-like street terror this time will be taken as foreign intervention, will be perceived as the July 15 coup was,” Karagül said on Twitter. “The results of the referendum have shaken the balances. Western intelligence services have been planning new games in Turkey. This country cannot allow a new Gezi terror,” added Karagül.

Dozens of people were detained after protesting the April 16 referendum results in rallies across Turkey. Chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on Tuesday said they do not recognize the results of a referendum held on April 16 due to irregularities in the voting process, saying the party will never recognize the outcome. Earlier on Tuesday the CHP applied to the YSK demanding the cancellation of the referendum due to irregularities in the voting process.

Amid a political crisis concerning the results of a referendum held on Sunday, the president of Turkey’s Constitutional Court, Zühtü Arslan, on Tuesday visited President Erdoğan. Arslan and Erdoğan had a 25-minute meeting that was closed to the press at the presidential palace in Ankara. Arslan’s visit came hours after the CHP applied to the YSK demanding the cancellation of the referendum due to irregularities in the voting process. (SCF with turkishminute.com) April 19, 2017


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