Obama, Turkey’s Islamist prime minister discuss nukes, teenagers

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama and Turkey’s controversial Islamist prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have become such bosom buddies that Erdogan is giving Obama advice on raising his American daughters.

Obama, who met with Erdogan March 25 at the nuclear summit in South Korea, has already met with Erdogan numerous times. He touted their relationship as a “friendship” in a January interview that was hyped by Erdogan’s press allies.

The two met in South Korea on Sunday, Eastern Time, to discuss Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but they also talked about the president’s two daughters, Malia and Sasha, Obama said during a press conference, according to a White House statement.

“The bottom line is that we find ourselves in frequent agreement upon a wide range of issues… [and] because he has two daughters that are a little older than mine — they’ve turned out very well, so I’m always interested in his perspective on raising girls,” Obama said.

One of Erdogan’s two daughters, Sumeyye, is entering Turkish politics via her father’s Islamist party, according to the Turkish press.

She wears Islamist-style clothes that obscure her hair and shape.

In Sept. 2010, the then-29 year old met with her father and U2 singer Bono while wearing a scarf that covered her hair and throat, long-sleeves that covered her forearms and a baggy overcoat that hid her figure.

In Feb. 2011, Sumeyye attended a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York while wearing a tight head-scarf that hid her hair and throat. She was accompanied by Erdogan’s wife, Ermine, who wore a head-to-toe black cloak.

Obama’s daughters, 13 year-old Malia and 10 year-old Sasha, dress far more liberally in typical American fashion.

The first lady, Michelle Obama, is a feminist and does not wear head scarves or throat scarves and often leaves her arms bare.

By openly acknowledging Erdogan’s advice on child-rearing, Obama “didn’t realize what he’s saying,” said Barry Rubin, an expert on Turkish politics.

Obama likely made the error, Rubin said, “because he is so unselfconscious and is not used to having to think through his remarks.”

Still, “it is shocking that [Obama suggests] he takes child-raising advice from a radical Islamist,” whose wife dresses in black cloaks or tight headscarves when traveling in the West, said Rubin.

Overall, the White House statement about the meeting “goes beyond polite praise and good manners and practically slobbers over a repressive, pro-Iran leader whose hatred for Israel is literally hysterical,” said Rubin.

The White House statement included statements by both Obama and Erdogan, but no press questions.

“I just want to say how much I appreciate the opportunity to once again meet with my friend and colleague, Prime Minister Erdogan … I find Prime Minister Erdogan to be an outstanding partner and an outstanding friend on a wide range of issues,” Obama began.

Erdogan responded to Obama by saying, “My dear friend, Barack, thank you very much for a very fruitful meeting today,” and then sketched out his plans to visit Iran’s theocratic government this week and to arrange a U.S-Turkey summit in June, before he ended with the comment that, “I also told you about my daughters.”

Over the last decade, Erdogan has pushed Turkey in an Islamist direction, rolling back the country’s secular laws — including laws that curb the wearing of Islamist headscarves — jailing many journalists, cooperating with Iran’s theocracy, spurring hostility towards Israel and demanding Israel apologize for forcibly stopping a May 2010 Islamist flotilla that was launched from Turkey.

In January 2009, he angrily walked out of a public event with Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres after accusing Israel of attacking Arabs and killing Arab children.

In contrast, Obama told Newsweek in January that Erdogan is one of five foreign leaders with whom he shares “friendships and the bonds of trust.”

“I think that if you ask them, [Germany’s] Angela Merkel or [Indian] Prime Minister Singh or [Korea’s] President Lee or [Turkey’s] Prime Minister Erdogan or [U.K.] David Cameron would say ‘We have a lot of trust and confidence in the President … We think he’s paying attention to our concerns and our interests,’” he told Newsweek interviewer Fareed Zakaria.

Unlike George W. Bush, Obama frequently mentions his daughters at political events.

During the South Korea trip, for example, he twice cited his daughters during a speech about nuclear weapons policy that took place Monday morning Korean time, or Sunday evening ET.

He told the audience that he had not used a social-media network to anonymously praise himself, adding “maybe my daughters have.”

He also used his two daughters to buttress his campaign-trail criticism of Rush Limbaugh after the radio personality had ridiculed an activist law student for demanding that a Catholic university pay for her birth-control services. “I thought about Malia and Sasha … I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way… I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens,” Obama said at White House March 6.

In June 2011, Obama told NBC that, “I could not ask for better kids … I’m not anticipating complete mayhem for the next four, five years [although] I understand teenage-hood is complicated.”

However, he added, “I should also point out that I have men with guns that surround them often.”

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