President Obama called Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Friday, shortly after stepping into this afternoon's White House briefing to say he'd called the Cambridge police officer who'd arrested Gates and sparked a national conversation on race.

Obama called Gates this afternoon at 3:15 after having spoken to Cambridge Sargeant James Crowley earlier today.

"They had a positive discussion during which the President told Gates about his call with Sgt. Crowley and statement to the media," a White House statement on the matter said.

Obama had called Gates's arrest in his own home an answer of police "acting stupidly" in a case with racial overtones.

The president told Crowley he hadn't meant to malign his work, but defended his public involvement in the incident earlier today.

"There are some who say as president I shouldn't have stepped into this at all because I'm president and it's a local issue," the president said. "The fact that it's become such a big issue is indicative of the fact that race is still a troubling aspect of our society."

The White House said that Obama had invited Gates to join him and Crowley at the White House "in the near future."