Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said that rather than congratulating Turkish President Erdogan, “the bigger point and priority” of Trump’s call was to talk about important issues in the region with a NATO ally.
“Look, the Middle East is a pretty rough neighbourhood, and sometimes you have to get together to help them beat the bullies, like Syria,” Sanders said. “And that was something that certainly needed to be talked about.”
The deputy press secretary also said that the president was not prejudging the outcome of the referendum that granted Erdogan with new executive powers, and wanted to see a review on election irregularities continued.
Erdogan himself told CNN that Trump had made a congratulatory call to him while European leaders and politicians were displaying a more cautious approach to the referendum results which saw Erdogan scrape through with only a 1.4% majority.
Republicans in the US voiced concern about Trump working with Erdogan as he seeks to consolidate his hold on power in Turkey.
“Turkey’s creeping authoritarianism continues,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) said in a statement early Tuesday. “All who value democracy, pluralism and Turkey’s key role in the region should be concerned about the elimination of important checks and balances in the Turkish system.”