- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Obama administration assumed a careful posture Wednesday toward the uprisings that have engulfed cities across Turkey, where authorities are seeking to calm protests that erupted when police cracked down on demonstrators earlier this week.

The State Department downplayed the possibility of tension between Washington and Ankara resulting from Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s statement this week that he was “concerned by reports of excessive use of force” by Turkish police on protesters.

The comments apparently enraged Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who has since phoned Mr. Kerry and told him that “Turkey is not a second-class democracy,” a Foreign Ministry source told Agence-France Presse.

Mr. Davutoglu reportedly also told Mr. Kerry the demonstrations are not “extraordinary” and compared them to the Occupy Wall Street protests, which gripped more than a dozen U.S. cities and featured police-protester clashes during late 2011 and early 2012.

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters Wednesday that the conversation between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Davutoglu was less confrontational than reported and that the two men continue to have “a very positive working relationship.”

** FILE ** Secretary of State John Kerry. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
** FILE ** Secretary of State John Kerry. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) more >

Mrs. Psaki added, however, that Mr. Kerry and others at the State Department “don’t hold back when there are concerns” and that “we have had concerns over the past couple of days about instances of police brutality, and we continue to call for, of course, the acceptance of peaceful protests” in Turkey.

Her remarks exposed the potentially delicate predicament created by the protests in Turkey, a close confidant to the Obama administration’s effort to calm regional unrest, particularly in Syria, which is embroiled in civil war.

That Mr. Kerry would appear to so quickly support Turkish protesters — something the Obama administration faced criticism for not doing when pro-democracy rallies broke out in nearby Iran four years ago — is significant for some observers.

“It was a strong statement by Kerry,” said Turkish-American filmmaker Elif S. Gurby, 50, who spoke from Istanbul on Wednesday. “And I know the American government is very careful before they go and say something strong.”

While some in Turkey’s week-old movement are chanting for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign, Mrs. Gurby was careful to distinguish the demonstrations from those that toppled governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in recent years.

“This is not Tahrir,” she said, referring to the Cairo square that served as the epicenter of Egypt’s revolution.

But some parallels can be drawn. The past week saw what began as an occupation of a public park by a small number of Turkish activists explode into massive rallies by a wide cross-section of the population.

The week since has seen police deploy water cannons and tear gas on protesters, with the Ankara-based Human Rights Association claiming that nearly 1,000 people have been injured and more than 3,300 detained.

Activists from the original Gezi Park protests presented government officials Wednesday with a list of demands of what they said could end the demonstrations.

At the same time, thousands of trade union members joined the demonstrators in Istanbul and central Ankara in a show of support.

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