Trump Congratulates Erdogan on Vote Amplifying His Power


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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday in Ankara.

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Tumay Berkin/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — President Trump called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday to congratulate him on winning a much-disputed referendum that will cement his autocratic rule over the country and, in the view of many experts, erode Turkey’s democratic institutions.

Those concerns were not mentioned in a brief readout of the phone call that the White House released Monday night. After noting Mr. Trump’s congratulations, the one-paragraph statement pivoted to a recent American missile strike on a Syrian airfield, which it said he and Mr. Erdogan had also discussed.

The statement did not say whether Mr. Trump had raised independent reports of voting irregularities during the Turkish referendum or the government’s heavy-handed tactics in the weeks leading up to it, when the country was under a state of emergency. The State Department noted both issues in a more cautious, less laudatory statement issued a few hours earlier.

The White House was also silent about the long-term implications of the referendum, which some experts have likened to a deathblow to democracy in Turkey. Mr. Erdogan’s narrow victory, in effect, ratifies his authoritarian rule. The change to Turkey’s Constitution will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system.

In its statement, the State Department said, “We look to the government of Turkey to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all its citizens — regardless of their vote on April 16 — as guaranteed by the Turkish Constitution and in accordance with Turkey’s international commitments, such as under the Helsinki Charter.” That document compels its signatory nations, including Turkey, to uphold human rights.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdogan are viewed as ideological bedfellows: They are populist leaders with little patience for the courts or other checks on their power. But Mr. Erdogan has taken his authoritarian bent to an extreme, imposing the state of emergency and purging the opposition, academia and the army after a failed coup last year.

The White House emphasized that the two leaders were united in their determination to punish Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, for using chemical weapons against his own people. “President Trump thanked President Erdogan for supporting this action by the United States,” the statement said, referring to the April 6 missile attack in Syria.

It also stressed that the two men stand together in battling the Islamic State, or ISIS: “President Trump and President Erdogan also discussed the counter-ISIS campaign and the need to cooperate against all groups that use terrorism to achieve their ends.”

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