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Obama, Erdogan speak for the first time since graft probe

US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke on Feb. 19 for the first time since the corruption scandal emerged, with Obama stressing the importance of "a strong, mutually respectful bilateral relationship" with Turkey.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan speaks on the phone in his car during his visit to Skopje September 29, 2011. Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan is on a two-day official visit to Macedonia.   REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski (MACEDONIA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR2RZV9

On Feb. 19, US President Barack Obama had his first conversation with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since the latter's government came under a corruption and bribery investigation two months ago. While Erdogan framed this graft probe as an “attempted coup” by the US-based Sunni religious leader Fethullah Gulen, he also covertly blamed the United States to be the mastermind of this plot against his government. He even raised the possibility of expelling Francis Ricciardone, the US ambassador to Turkey, soon after the scandal broke out.

A lot has happened since Obama listed Erdogan in 2012 as one of his top five close friends among world leaders. The White House readout of the Obama-Erdogan telephone conversation sounded as if the Obama administration was listing its disappointment with Erdogan one sentence after another. “The President affirmed the value he places on a strong, mutually respectful bilateral relationship with the Republic of Turkey and expressed his view that Turkey can demonstrate leadership in the world through positive engagement,” it read, allowing analysts to speculate as to why there was any need to openly spell out “positive engagement.”

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