Obama in Turkey
ANKARA, Turkey -- During his first 100 days in power, as a part of his first presidential visit to Europe, U.S. President Barack Obama chose to come to Turkey, where the United States' image was damaged by the war in Iraq and the tone set by the Bush administration. Even before arriving in Turkey, Obama had already made it clear that he gave great importance to Turkey. He said he would keep relations close, as evident at the NATO summit, where he played a very active role in persuading the Turkish side to approve Danish PM Anders Fogh-Rasmussen's selection as the new secretary general, and during the European Union Summit in Prague, where he urged the EU leaders to accept Turkey as a member, emphasizing that it would be a positive sign to the Muslim world. Obama arrived in Ankara on April 5 and kicked off with a visit to Ataturk's mausoleum. He signed the guest book and concluded by quoting one of the most popular sayings of Ataturk:"Peace at home, peace in the world." In addition to the bilateral talks he held with President Gäl, Prime Minister ErdoÄŸan, and Parliament Speaker Toptan, Obama met with the leaders of the opposition parties. He then addressed the Turkish parliament, where he was called to the podium with an emphasized reference to his middle name, "Hussein." Obama opened his speech by calling for "renewing the alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people" and made it apparent that he chose to come to Turkey to deliver a message: "Turkey is a critical ally of the United States. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together €“ and work together €“ to overcome the challenges of our time." Obama underlined that the "United States is not at war with Islam and will never be. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject," and he continued by praising the strength of the alliance and the endurance of the friendship between Turkey and the United States, the importance of Turkey for regional security and stability, and the reforms Turkey undertook over the recent years. Other highlights of his speech included:
- the United States will continue to support Turkey's central role as an East-West corridor for oil and natural gas
- the United States will continue to support strongly Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union.
- reopening the Halki Seminary (Greek Orthodox Seminary) will send an important signal inside Turkey and beyond in support for freedom of religion and expression and a strong and vibrant civil society.
- the problem between Turkey and Armenia is neither legal nor political but historical. Thus, the problem should be dealt by the Turkish and Armenian people. United States strongly supports the full normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.
- the United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. In this regard, Turkey can help Israel build security and Palestine strengthen its institutions.
- the United States will continue its support against the terrorist activities of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK)
- the United States look forward to continued partnership and cooperation towards Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan and to counter terrorism.
On one of the controversial issues, when asked about his stance on the "Armenian" congressional bill during a press conference, Obama said, "My views are on the record and I have not changed those views" appeasing his Armenian-American constituency, however he also allowed hope and goodwill for the Turkish side by continuing, that what "I want to do is not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them." President Obama attended the reception hosted by Prime Minister ErdoÄŸan in honor of the guests of the Alliance of Civilizations Forum taking place in Istanbul but stressed that the purpose of his visit to Turkey was to appeal the Turkish people. Today, President Obama met with religious leaders and then came together with a group of students and answered their questions. President Obama's popularity had reached Turkey even before he did. His visit to Turkey just reaffirmed that the promise of "change" -- especially in style -- will open a new era for the Turkish-American relations. In addition to his sincerity and constructiveness, his respect for the sensitivities in Turkey was well received by different segments of the Turkish society. Besides the foreign policy importance he attributed to Turkey, his remarks stressing "secularism and democracy" in Turkey clearly showed that he wants to extend the dialogue with Turkey to the parties alongside the ruling Justice and Development Party. He also underlined the importance of improving religious freedoms, freedom of expression, and respect for minority rights. Now, let's hope that words are put into action and the two countries can achieve the "model" partnership for further security, stability, and prosperity.
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