- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009


A group of Turkish diplomats breached the security bubble around President Obama on Tuesday, provoking a frenzied reaction by security personnel, around the president who pushed and shoved the intruders away from the president’s limousine.

The incident occurred as Mr. Obama was preparing to leave the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan after speaking to an annual meeting of former President Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative. Mr. Clinton was seen escorting Mr. Obama to the limousine moments before the incident occurred.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was among those swept up in the confrontation, the U.S. Secret Service confirmed to the Washington Times Wednesday morning.

Mr. Erdogan was arriving at the same meeting as Mr. Obama was leaving when the scuffle between Turkish security surrounding the prime minister and U.S. security — Secret Service along with New York City police — broke out.

The skirmish, which involved shoving, pushing and loud shouting, reached the corner of the large white tent that housed Mr. Obama’s limousine just as the president was preparing to get in the vehicle and leave. The Turkish press reported that Mr. Erdogan may have even grabbed a U.S. security agent to stop him from throwing a punch.

The limousine was hidden from view inside a large white tent, a regular Secret Service tactic to protect the president. Moments after Mr. Obama arrived at the car, a large number of uniformed police and plainclothes Secret Service agents converged on the back corner of the tent, shouting loudly.

A Washington Times reporter accompanying the president as part of a small press pool witnessed the skirmish from about 10 feet away.

“A foreign delegation got confused and were trying to enter the president’s departure tent and didn’t understand the verbal instructions being given. They had to be physically restrained,” said Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service.

Mr. Donovan said it was his understanding that the intruders did not make it into the tent. Nonetheless, by making it to the edge of the tent, they came within about 10 to 15 feet of the president’s limousine.

Mr. Donovan denied that the incident was a breach of security because he said that the Turks had Secret Service escort. But he would give no details on why the fracas occurred other than that a language barrier caused a breakdown of communication.

“A foreign delegation got confused and were trying to enter the president’s departure tent and didn’t understand the verbal instructions being given. They had to be physically restrained,” he said.

The Secret Service said none of the diplomats involved in the incident was detained.

The incident comes at an inopportune time. Turkey is key to Mr. Obama’s strategy to build a more strategic and multilateral foreign policy, and the president has spent a good amount of effort trying to improve U.S.-Turkish relations. He visited Turkey during his first foreign trip and the administration has proposed the sale of $8 billion in anti-missile weapons systems to Turkey, which could play a role in containing the Iranian nuclear threat.

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The scare involving the Turkish delegations was the second of the day Tuesday for Mr. Obama’s security detail, accompanying the president to New York for a series of meetings capped by Wednesday’s speech to the annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly.

Earlier in the day, prior to Mr. Obama’s meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Chinese TV camera crews tried to push through U.S. journalists waiting to enter the meeting, leading to a tense standoff between U.S. security and the foreign press contingent. A Washington Times reporter was also present for that incident.

At one point, a Chinese cameraman reportedly used his camera as a battering ram. Those who were close by said he struck a security officer in the face with the camera, but a government security official said that the officer, who was an agent with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, was kicked in the shins and was not struck in the face. The situation was resolved by sending in journalists two at a time, with one U.S. and one Chinese journalist to each pair.

Owing to diplomatic protocols negotiated before the meeting by U.S. and Chinese officials, the Chinese were hosts of the meeting, despite the fact that it was on U.S. soil. U.S. delegations sometimes host bilateral meetings on foreign soil.

Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.

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