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Erdogan's Security Roughs Up Journalists, Staff, Protesters at D.C. Think Tank

A protester shouts slogans against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in front of Brookings Institution in Washington on March 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

The White House tread carefully around reports that security for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were abusive to journalists and think-tank staff at a speech in D.C. today.

In town for the Nuclear Security Summit, Erdogan met at the St. Regis hotel with Vice President Joe Biden this morning before a scheduled lunchtime address at the Brookings Institution on global challenges facing Turkey.

He was faced by a mix of supporters and protesters outside of the think tank. Supporters held signs such as “no difference between ISIS and PKK,” while protesters held Kurdish flags and accused Erdogan of being a “war criminal.”

Foreign Policy magazine’s Paul McCleary reported one D.C. cop telling Erdogan’s security, “You’re part of the problem; you guys need to control yourselves and let these people protest.”

People other than protesters were reporting mistreatment and chaos:

Asked about the violence from Erdogan’s detail at today’s briefing, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said he’d seen media reports of what happened at Brookings.

“The one thing I would say is, obviously, the United States strongly supports freedom of the press and independent media in every country in the world, including Turkey,” Rhodes said.

“We have in the past indicated our concerns about some of the steps that have been taken against journalists inside of Turkey. So that’s been, you know, a longstanding position of the United States and something that we have raised directly with the Turkish government and will continue to do so.”

Rhodes stressed, “Again, I don’t know the precise circumstances of what took place at Brookings, but obviously our position on this matter, whether it’s here in the United States obviously, but also in Turkey, it is that we respect and support the right for there to be independent journalism.”

President Obama and Erdogan are expected to chat this evening “on the margins” of a working dinner that Obama is hosting for visiting world leaders.

“I know that both Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry have had discussions with President Erdogan,” Rhodes said, adding that the discussion with Obama is “not a full formal bilateral meeting, but we’ve indicated that we — given the very many and complex issues between our countries right now, I want to make sure that the two of them can find a time to have a discussion tonight.”

“So we’ll keep you updated on all those discussions with Turkey and obviously happy to get into our position on the issues at stake.”