Crackdowns by Turkey’s Erdogan Are ‘Troubling,’ Obama Says

  • Turkish leader couldn't land official meeting at summit
  • Erdogan's bodyguards fought with protesters in Washington

Police officers detain a Kurdish man in Istanbul on March 20, 2016.

Photographer: BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama said Friday he was concerned that crackdowns against the press by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could lead his nation down a "troubling" path.

The comments, which represented a rare pointed critique of the leader of a NATO ally, came the day after Turkish security officials clashed with protesters and reporters before Erdogan delivered a speech in Washington. Erdogan and Obama later met briefly on the sidelines of a dinner at the White House.

Obama, speaking at the conclusion of the Nuclear Security Summit, said that in conversations with the Turkish leader he had stressed his belief in the rule of law and freedoms of press and religion.

"He came into office with a promise of democracy and Turkey has historically been a country in which deep Islamic faith has lived side-by-side with modernity and an increasing openness, and that’s the legacy he should pursue," Obama said. He warned Erdogan against the "repression of information and shutting down democratic debate."

On Thursday, Turkish security personnel tried to physically remove a reporter from Erdogan’s speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Other Erdogan bodyguards skirmished with protesters and reporters outside the building, according to witnesses who posted pictures and video of the events on Twitter.

The incident came after a series of attacks on journalists operating within Turkey, including the seizure of an opposition newspaper and arrests of reporters. U.S.-Turkey relations are tense, as the Obama administration has publicly expressed frustration Erdogan has intervened more significantly in the civil war raging in neighboring Syria.

That friction intensified after the publication last month of an article in The Atlantic in which the president was described as believing Erdogan was a failure and an authoritarian. White House spokesman Josh Earnest did not dispute that characterization of the president’s views following the article’s publication.

Before traveling to the U.S., Erdogan publicly lobbied for an official meeting with Obama. The White House declined.

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