Obama greets Turkish democracy’s ‘vibrancy’

September 14, 2010, Tuesday/ 16:55:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
US President Barack Obama has praised the turnout in the referendum on the constitutional reform package on Sunday, citing the turnout as a sign of “vibrancy” in Turkey’s democratic system.

The White House announced Sunday that Obama had called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and congratulated him on Turkey’s hosting of the World Basketball Championship – in which Turkey and the US faced-off in the final.

“The president said he is rooting for the American team but that, whoever wins, both teams have played great basketball,” a statement said.

“The president also acknowledged the vibrancy of Turkey’s democracy as reflected in the turnout for the referendum that took place across Turkey today,” the statement added.

The “yes” vote was 58 percent, against a “no” vote of 42 percent, according to unofficial results.

The turnout, in an electorate of just under 50 million, was 77 percent.

The two NATO allies cooperate closely in Iraq, where problems with forming the government still persist months after the March parliamentary elections, and in Afghanistan. But there are visible rifts on two other issues -- Iran’s nuclear program and the state of Turkish-Israeli relations. The US expressed disappointment after Turkey voted against sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council in June, a move that led many conservatives in Washington to question whether Turkey was still an ally.

Turkey’s harsh rhetoric against Israel, which came after Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American on an aid ship in international waters, further deepened concerns about Turkey in Washington. Last month, the State Department made it known to the public that it had held a closed-door session on Turkey.

Also last month, a leading UK daily, the Financial Times, reported that Obama had personally warned Erdoğan that Turkey stood little chance of getting weapons it wanted to buy from the US, unless it changed its stance on Iran and Israel.

Yet, the speculation was fiercely denied by both Ankara and the White House at the time.

Some observers say some in the US administration are uneasy with the presentation of ties between the Turkish government and the US administration as “problem-free” and want the unease felt in Washington over Turkey’s stance on Iran and Israel to be known.

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