- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

NEW YORK | The Turkish government Wednesday blamed a tense confrontation between Turkish security agents and U.S. security personnel on a failure to communicate by the Secret Service.

The incident took place within 10 to 15 feet of President Obama’s limousine Tuesday as he was preparing to leave an event at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. A group of security agents and police officers converged on a corner of the tent housing the limousine yelling and shouting, and appeared to use force to move individuals away from the tent.

The Secret Service on Tuesday blamed the fracas on a language barrier, saying that the Turkish security agents accompanying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not heed verbal instructions to stop proceeding toward the president’s limousine because of their inability to understand English.

The Turkish government Wednesday rejected that explanation out of hand, saying that its security agents were accompanied by a Secret Service team that was escorting them to the same hotel that Mr. Obama was leaving, and that the Secret Service detail with Mr. Erdogan brought them near the Obama limousine without telling the main U.S. security contingent guarding the president.

“It was the responsibility of the Secret Service team assigned to the Turkish delegation to make any necessary arrangements in terms of timing to lead the delegation to the right place at the right time,” said Suleyman Gokce, first counselor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington.

Mr. Gokce also said that while Mr. Erdogan was involved, he was a safe distance away from the pushing and shoving.

The Secret Service did not respond to requests for a response to the Turkish accusation, but the White House did. “We have spoken with the Turkish delegation and agreed that these things sometimes happen when you have scores of leaders coming and going at one location,” said White House spokesman Mike Hammer.

The incident comes at an inopportune time for an Obama administration eager to improve relations with one of the Muslim world’s largest democracies.

Turkey, a NATO member, 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.-Turkey 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.

The White House played down the diplomatic fallout from the incident.

“They had a group of people trying to come in while the president was leaving and, as is always the case, the Secret Service isn’t always keen on that. But I don’t see why that would cause a huge international ruffle,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

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