President Donald Trump’s call congratulating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the referendum vote consolidating his power was not necessarily an endorsement or acceptance of the results, the White House said Tuesday.
The outcome of the vote, which would amend Turkey’s constitution to grant the country’s autocratic president significantly more power, is being contested, and Trump surprised some in Washington on Monday when the White House said he had called Erdogan to congratulate him. Experts and other American leaders, including some Republicans, have responded to the vote by framing it as hugely damaging to democracy in Turkey.
Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Wisconsin on Tuesday, principal deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemed to try to reframe the call, saying that Trump’s “bigger point and priority” with the call was to “talk about shared interests as a NATO ally and a partner there.”
“We want to encourage democracy,” Sanders said, according to a transcript released by the White House press office. “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.”
Asked if the call signaled Trump’s support for Erdogan assuming more power, Sanders said no.
“That wasn’t the purpose of the call,” she said. “And that’s certainly not the position of the President, and of course supports democracy and would hope for that. But at the same time, the President’s number-one priority is protecting Americans, keeping Americans safe, and sometimes we’re going to have to work with other countries and some of our NATO partners in order to do that.”
She also denied that the call means that Trump accepts the vote’s results. The commission that reviews them, she said, should do so.
“We want the commission that looks at those to do their job and to do a report on the election results,” Sanders said. “But the purpose of the call was to congratulate him but also primarily to talk about some of their shared interests, like Syria, primarily.”