WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama spoke to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday about the importance of free expression, following days of violence in anti-government demonstrations.

The two leaders also discussed Syria, and the need to provide more support to rebels both sides support, after Washington signaled it was ready to provide military aid to fighters battling President Bashar al-Assad.

The White House said in a statement that Erdogan described the situation in Turkey, where a sit-in to save Gezi Park near Istanbul’s main Taksim Square prompted a brutal police response on May 31. “The two leaders discussed the importance of nonviolence and of the rights to free expression and assembly and a free press,” the statement said.

The two governments had previously exchanged sharp words over the violence, with Washington expressing concern at “excessive” police tactics and Ankara rejecting criticism of his handling of the violence.

Meanwhile, the European Union rebuked Turkey on Tuesday for its crackdown on anti-government protesters, postponing a new round of membership talks for at least four months, but said the path to the EU remained open. The EU move, discussed in advance with Turkey, drew a mild response from Ankara and avoided a crisis in their relations.

The EU had planned to open a new chapter in talks with Turkey on Wednesday, reviving its bid to join the bloc, which has been virtually frozen for three years.

But Germany, backed by Austria and the Netherlands, blocked the plan, saying it would send the wrong signal so soon after police cracked down on protesters in Turkish cities. EU governments on Tuesday backed a German-inspired proposal, agreeing to open the chapter on regional policy but delaying the formal launch of talks until after an October 9 report by the European Commission on reforms and human rights in Turkey.

EU governments will meet again after the report comes out to set a date for talks in light of what it says about Turkey’s behavior. Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the EU agreement gave Turkey “a probationary period for how it handles basic rights for citizens, how it handles the right to demonstrate and the right to free speech.”