Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called US President Barack Obama to discuss the situation in Mosul, Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the Turkish Consulate General, but the White House forwarded his call to Vice President Joe Biden, Today’s Zaman has learned.
ISIL has taken control of much of the city of Mosul, and given the serious security situation there, after Turkish Consul-General Öztürk Yılmaz, members of his family and others at the consulate were taken hostage by ISIL on Wednesday, Erdoğan called Obama, but Obama was apparently unavailable. Erdoğan was only able to speak to Vice President Joe Biden, according to an expert in Washington who follows Turkish-American relations closely. The Obama administration does not want to become involved in Iraq again, the expert told Today’s Zaman, adding that the fact that the call was forwarded is the latest sign that Obama is no longer willing to give Erdoğan that privilege.
Obama has already been criticized by members of the US Senate for earlier compliments he paid Erdoğan and his previously close relationship with the Turkish prime minister, especially after reports appeared in the Western press claiming that al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists were using Turkey’s southern border as a transit point between Syria and Europe. The Obama administration is also displeased by recent developments in Turkey related to the government’s tight control over Turkish media, limitations on freedom of expression, blocking social media and the increasing use of anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric by Turkish government officials.
“The Vice President spoke today with Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan regarding the security situation around Mosul, Iraq, where elements of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have taken over significant portions of the city, seized the Turkish consulate, and taken Turkish personnel — including the Consul General and family members — hostage,” said a readout of Vice President Biden’s call with Erdoğan that was issued by the White House on Wednesday.
“The Vice President underscored the United States condemns the actions taken by ISIL, calls for the safe and immediate return of the Turkish personnel and family members, and supports efforts by Iraqi national and Kurdish security forces to work together to combat the ISIL threat,” it stated.
The statement continued, “The Vice President told Prime Minister Erdoğan that the United States is prepared to support Turkey’s efforts to bring about the safe return of its citizens and will stay in close touch with the Turkish and Iraqi governments regarding a resolution to the security situation.”
US Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki has said that US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu by phone on Wednesday. Psaki said at the daily press briefing on Wednesday, “They [Kerry and Davutoğlu] discussed their mutual concern about the deteriorating security situation in Mosul and ISIL’s despicable attack on the Turkish consulate, which we condemn in the strongest terms.”
She added: “We join Turkey and the international community in calling for the immediate release of Turkey’s kidnapped diplomatic personnel. The [secretary] reiterated the United States commitment to working with the Iraqi Government and leaders across Iraq to support a unified approach against ISIL’s continued aggression. We are in touch with the governments of Turkey and Iraq, and stand ready to provide any appropriate assistance.”
“Usually Prime Minister Erdoğan talks to President Obama in this kind of situation. Do you know why the president is not available today?” a journalist asked the spokesperson. “I wouldn’t speculate on that. I don’t even know if what you stated is correct. I would point you to the White House on any calls he has planned for today,” answered Psaki.
Psaki declined to answer questions on what sort of help Turks had asked for from the US to address the situation in Mosul, saying that “I would point you to Turkey on that question, and we’ll let them speak for what their needs are. Obviously, we remain concerned about the detainment of the diplomats. We all share a concern about the security situation. This is not just a challenge for the people of Iraq but for the people of the region, and these events are clearly an example of that.”
Psaki also said that she is not aware of any warning the US would have been able to provide to Turkey prior to the attack on the Turkish consulate.
At Turkey’s request, NATO ambassadors held an emergency meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss the state of affairs in Mosul. When asked about whether NATO would help Turkey to rescue the hostages, Psaki said: “I would clearly point you to NATO. I’m not sure what they would be considering at this time.”
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday also condemned ISIL’s “despicable attack” on the Turkish consulate in Mosul and called for the immediate release of Turkey’s kidnapped diplomatic and security personnel. Stressing that ISIL poses a “different kind of threat” to American interests, Earnest said that the US has been watching the threat from ISIL “very carefully” due to this group’s expressed interest in attacking the US and its allies.