US President Barack Obama has met with religious leaders in Istanbul as part of an effort to unite moderates of major faiths against extremism. Istanbul is the last stop on Obama's maiden tour of Europe as president.
Obama held a town hall meeting in a cultural center in Istanbul
Obama began his final day of an eight-day tour of Europe by pledging respect to Islam in a meeting with Muslim, Christian and Jewish spiritual leaders in Istanbul. He then held a round-table discussion with university students.
On the question of Turkish-Kurdish relations, Obama said that the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, was on Washington's list of terrorist organisations and stressed that terror against any nation was unacceptable. He added however that it was important to advance the rights of minorities, including the Kurdish population within Turkey.
"(Our) efforts will be strengthened by the continued work to build ties of cooperation between Turkey, the Iraqi government, and Iraq's Kurdish leaders, and by your continued efforts to promote education and opportunity for Turkey's Kurds."
Difficulties in paying for climate change
Obama also raised the issue of climate change. The US president said that reaching an international accord on combating climate change would be difficult because of political and economic hurdles.
“This is going to be a big, big project, a very difficult one, and costly one,” said the American president. Obama said that political leaders would face tough decisions on who would bear the costs for limited the production of carbon gases.
Positive media echo
Obama visits the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
In their Tuesday editions, Turkish newspapers praised Obama's address to the Turkish parliament he held on Monday. During his speech, Obama appealed for dialogue and inter-faith understanding, and stressed that “the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.” Approving of the message, the Radikal newspaper headlined its front page “We can be a model partnership.”
Turkish commentators have also praised Obama's tactful, political approach. The Hurriyet newspaper headlined its front page on Tuesday with “All of us have to change,” referring to the way Obama praised Turkey for its domestic and foreign policy reforms in the mainly Muslim nation over the past few years. Commentators are particularly pleased with the way Obama successfully bypassed the contentious Armenian genocide issue, saying he did not want to rock the boat as Turkish and Armenian leaders work towards normalizing ties.
Ankara is a key US ally in the region between Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The US's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been unpopular in Muslim Turkey however, where they have been viewed as battles against Islam.
Obama's trip to Europe also included visits to the UK, France, Germany and the Czech Republic He has now headed back to the US.