U.S. President Barack Obama offered condolences over a bomb blast in Ankara Tuesday, as he sat down with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key Middle East ally.
Obama met Erdoğan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, on a day when an attack by suspected members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in the Turkish capital killed three people and injured at least 15.
The president extended “deep condolences for the loss of life in the explosion in Ankara,” adding that the attack “reminds us that terrorism exists in many parts of the world.”
Three people were killed and 15 were injured in the bomb blast, the Turkish Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin told Turkish television.
Şahin said there was a “high possibility that it was a terrorist attack,” using the government’s shorthand for attacks by the PKK.
Erdoğan however earlier warned against a rush to judgment, saying there had been no information that the incident was a terrorist attack.
Obama also praised Turkey as “a NATO ally and a great friend and partner on NATO issues” and thanked Erdoğan for “all the work in Afghanistan.”
Washington regards Turkey as one of its most important allies and Obama has spent considerable time engaging Erdoğan in his two-and-a-half years in office and paid a visit to Ankara and Istanbul in 2009.
In recent months, the Obama administration has been alarmed at the estrangement between Turkey and its closest Middle East ally Israel, over an Israeli raid on a flotilla bound for Gaza that killed nine Turks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday urged Turkey to defuse tension and repair strategic ties with Israel.
In her meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in New York, Clinton “made clear that this is not a time when we need more tension, more volatility in the region,” a senior U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
The United States has offered to mediate an end to the Israeli-Turkish crisis – which analysts said could also harm ties between NATO allies Washington and Ankara – but Turkey has rejected the U.S. offer.
Earlier this month, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and froze military ties and defence trade deals. Ties strained even further when Erdoğan threatened to send warships to escort any Turkish vessels trying to reach Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Turkey has also been crucial to the evolving U.S. stance on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on popular protests, and on Libya.
Erdoğan initially took a softer line than Washington on Syria’s crackdown, but last week warned Assad the era of oppressive dictators had past.