According to the White House statement, Obama and Erdoğan discussed the need for strong, sustainable and balanced growth in the global economy, and the “President noted the importance of sound policies rooted in the rule of law to reassure the financial markets, nurture a predictable investment environment, strengthen bilateral ties, and benefit the future of Turkey.”
The US administration has mostly opted to remain silent following corruption and bribery investigations in Turkey involving some members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and their relatives, the purging of members of the judiciary and law enforcement officials, the restructuring of Turkey’s judicial system in a way that gives more powers to the government and raises concerns on the separation of powers and a new Internet law which restricts freedom of expression in Turkey, as well as the government’s tight control over the media.
Unlike European Union officials who have openly criticized Turkey on such issues, US officials have repeatedly said the “United States is not and will not become involved in Turkey’s domestic politics.”
During his phone conversation with Erdoğan, Obama affirmed the value he places on a “strong, mutually respectful bilateral relationship with the Republic of Turkey and expressed his view that Turkey can demonstrate leadership in the world through positive engagement.”
Obama and Erdoğan also agreed on the importance of close cooperation between the two countries to “address the growing terrorist presence in Syria and on the shared interest in continuing efforts to advance a political solution to the Syria conflict.”
Obama thanks Erdoğan for Cyprus efforts
Obama also thanked Prime Minister Erdoğan for “his constructive role in the effort on Cyprus to renew negotiations for a settlement.” Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders started negotiations on Feb. 11 for a comprehensive solution for the long-divided island, after intense diplomatic efforts, particularly by the US administration.
According to the White House statement, Obama and Erdoğan also spoke about the importance of Turkey quickly concluding a normalization agreement with Israel.
Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed by Israeli soldiers on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid flotilla in 2010, causing a downgrading of diplomatic ties between Turkey and Israel after Tel Aviv refused to apologize for the incident. Obama reportedly convinced Israel to apologize for the flotilla incident and Israel formally apologized for what it called “operational mistakes” that might have led to deaths on the ship. Turkey and Israel are currently negotiating on a compensation deal for the victims’ families.
The White House statement also said the two leaders discussed the importance of encouraging Baghdad and Arbil to find common ground on energy issues.
Prime Minister Erdoğan also noted that a launch ceremony for the Boeing 737 Peace Eagle would be held on Friday. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) received their first ever Peace Eagle Aircraft from the American Boeing Company.
Obama and Erdoğan spoke on the phone 18 times during the Arab Spring in 2011 and Obama reportedly said at the time that Erdoğan was one of the five world leaders he spoke to the most often. However, the last phone conversation between the two leaders was in August 2013.
Erdoğan and Obama had spoken on the phone last June during the Gezi Park protests in İstanbul. The main topics discussed were the situation in Syria and the Gezi protests, according to sources.
Concerns about Internet law
In the meantime, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf, answering questions by phone for a daily press conference on Wednesday, said the Internet law in Turkey has the “potential to severely restrict free expression, freedom of the press, and access to information over the Internet.”
“We understand that the legislation improved by — approved, excuse me, by President Gül will be subject to further modification by Parliament. During this process, as well as the implementation of any final legislation, I’d say we’re looking to Turkey to uphold — again, I’ve talked about it a few times today — but fundamental freedoms of expression and a free and independent media,” said Harf.
Harf also said she would not get into a more detailed analysis about the law or possible modifications. “We’ll take a look at what happens when it happens and make assessments at that time.”
Commenting on a newly approved law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) in Turkey, Harf said she does not know the specifics on that issue, adding that the US does not always comment on internal Turkish matters.
Harf also refrained from commenting on a US Treasury statement issued on Feb. 6 saying that an al-Qaeda network based in Iran is helping transport fighters and money to Syria via Turkey. Harf said the issue should be addressed to the US Treasury, adding that the US has made clear its concerns about some of Iran’s activities in Syria.