The U.S. President was chatting on the phone with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday. He was snapped holding a baseball bat while he talked.
Obama and Erdogan were discussing the ongoing violence in Syria, in which both the U.S. and Turkey are backing the anti-regime opposition forces.
Turkish politicians saw the photo and immediately leveled harsh criticism at Turkey’s head of government. The photo was interpreted as vaguely menacing by some critics, causing a stir in Turkey.
Metin Lutfi Baydar, a Turkish parliamentarian and member of the Republican People's Party (the country's main opposition), immediately took offense and said, "The photo reveals from whom our Prime Minister receives orders to rule the country,"
According to Reuters, Legislator Umut Oran called the photo "an implicit insult to Turkey and its citizens."
Some, however, took the matter a little more light-heartedly. Columnist Ahmet Hakan of Hurriyet wrote, "We need to do something - retaliation seems to be the most reasonable method."
"Our prime minister needs to hold something in his hand as he's calling Obama," he added, suggesting as possible candidates a slipper, a belt or a rolling pin.
Reporters questioned White House secretary Jay Carney on Monday, asking about possible hidden meanings in the photo of Obama and the bat. Carney said that that the president was a baseball fan and was an avid supporter of the Chicago White Sox.
On Friday, the White House released a statement that the photo was meant to "highlight the ongoing close relationship" between Obama and Erdogan.
Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the White House wrote, "We released the photo with only one purpose in mind, to highlight the President's continuing close relationship with Prime Minister Erdogan and draw attention to the important conversation they had about the worsening situation in Syria."
"The President cares highly about the partnership and friendship he has with Prime Minister Erdogan on a series of important issues on which the United States cooperates with Turkey," she wrote.
According to the statement, the baseball at in the photo was a gift from American baseball legend Hank Aaron to the U.S. president.