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Why Did President Obama Give the Islamist Turkish Prime Minister a Hug?

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“Eventually the Europeans got a handshake but Erdogan got the hug treatment.”

In the report from White House pool reporter Tangi Quéméner covering the G-20 summit in Cannes, France, an interesting detail emerged about the gestures President Obama used to greet the different leaders (my highlight):

“[President Obama] entered the room at 1:15 and took to his left, heading to Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. They chatted for a few seconds before British Prime minister David Cameron joined them. Hard to understand what they were saying amid the cameras noise. POTUS then took a stroll to Australian Premier Julia Gillard who got a hug as European president Herman van Rompuy, European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan were watching. Eventually the Europeans got a handshake but Erdogan got the hug treatment. POTUS then walked all the way around after noticing that "people are really far away around there". He stopped for quick handshakes and reached out to President Hu of China, telling him 'ni hao' (hello). They cordially shook hands and posed for photographers...POTUS then greeted his Argentinian counterpart Cristina Kirchner who just got reelected without runoff. Angela Merkel was just congratulating her (in English). "So Nicolas, we all have to take lessons" of Kirchner's victory, joked POTUS, who's up for reelection in '12, as Sarkozy is (next May).

So who is the man who got the "hug treatment"? Erdoğan has shown a commitment to Islamist politics, has demonstrated hostility toward Israel, recently downgrading relations and expelling its ambassador, and says he doesn’t believe Hamas is a terrorist organization. These views have increased his stature across the Middle East.

Daniel Pipes points out that in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a high-five to the Turkish foreign minister.

Michael Rubin reveals in Commentary that the Obama administration is showing Turkey love not only with hugs and high fives:

On October 28, at Obama administration behest, the Pentagon officially notified Congress of its intention to sell Turkey three Super Cobra helicopters. In the past, officials rebuffed such Turkish requests because those helicopters were needed in Afghanistan. Frankly, they still our and American lives depend on them. Senators now have 15 days to object to the sale; the Obama administration, however, hopes that their request will slip through unnoticed.

This latest warm gesture to a leader that doesn’t always represent American values might remind some readers of the controversial bow President Obama gave Saudi King Abdullah at the G-20 two years ago.

The Telegraph then reported that:

State department protocol indeed decrees that presidents bow to no one, and has had to deal with similar controversies before, when then president Bill Clinton did a semi-bow to Japan's Emperor Akihito.

In diplomacy, what matters more: words, actions or gestures? What signal does this show-of-warmth convey to Turkey that has lately been at odds with American regional interests? And what does it say to the Europeans who got a paltry handshake?

[h/t: The Weekly Standard]

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