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White House: Trump-Erdoğan phone call not endorsement of referendum results

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The White House’s Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, while en route to Wisconsin with President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One, told reporters during a press gaggle that a conversation yesterday between the US president and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not indicate any acceptance of the results of a controversial referendum held in Turkey on Sunday.

“No, I think we’ve encouraged … the OSCE, the election commission, to take a close look at those election results. They’re the gold standard when it comes to that. And we certainly want them to do everything that they would normally do in that process and make a determination and put out a full report,” she said in response to a question asking if the phone call could be taken as acceptance that the results of the referendum were official, when in fact the Turkish opposition is calling for a recount, claiming irregularities in the vote.

Sanders stated that the purpose of the call was both to congratulate Erdoğan on his win and to also talk about shared interests as a NATO ally.

The referendum on April 16 was a vote on a package of constitutional amendments that will switch Turkey’s system of governance from a parliamentary to a presidential model, greatly increasing the powers of the president and feared by opposition parties as establishing one-man rule in the country.

Asked if the phone call didn’t send a message that Trump supports the fact that Erdoğan expanded his power with the very controversial vote, Sanders disagreed and said that wasn’t the purpose of the call, adding that Trump of course supports democracy, later adding that “… we want to encourage democracy. 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,” when a reporter queried if Trump was concerned about the future of democracy in Turkey as a result of the referendum.

When pressed further about whether or not it is acceptable to Trump to have an undemocratic Turkey that is a strong ally against terrorism, Sanders said: “I don’t know that the focus, again, should be on whether or not it’s acceptable. I think the president’s number-one job is to keep Americans safe. … And if he needs to work with countries like Turkey and others to do that, I think that’s his priority and that’s what his focus is.”

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