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Europe

US, Turkey Aim to Repair Ties Damaged by Iraq War

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared Turkey "a friend for all times," seeking to improve relations with the NATO ally after disagreements over the Iraq war led to a wave of anti-Americanism in the country.

U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waves to cameras as she visits the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder Kemal Ataturk in Ankara

After a warm welcome in western Europe, Clinton aims for a thaw with Ankara

Speaking after wide-ranging talks in Ankara on Saturday, March 7, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan that covered a number issues, including the Middle East, Afghanistan, NATO and the fight against terrorism, Clinton announced that President Barack Obama would visit Turkey next month.

"I will tell President Obama that he will find a warm welcome," Clinton said at a joint press conference with Babacan.

Clinton in particular praised Turkey for its role in mediating peace talks between Israel and Syria, saying that the talks were a part of the overall Mideast peace process.

"The importance of this tract of the peace process cannot be overstated," Clinton said.

Return to the negotiating table?

Turkey has hosted four rounds of indirect peace talks between Damascus and Tel Aviv but plans for a fifth round were put on hold when Israel launched military operations in the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Ankara

Clinton, left, also met with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan

Babacan said that once the conditions were right and both sides were ready to again start the talks, Turkey would be ready once again to play a mediating role.

Clinton also said that two US representatives are currently holding talks in Damascus.

Asked what role Turkey might play as the US starts to pull its troops out of neighboring Iraq, Clinton said it was too early in the planning stages to make any firm announcements.

Earlier this week, Babacan said Turkey would consider allowing US troops to transit through its territory when withdrawing from Iraq.

In a joint statement issued later, Clinton and Babacan expressed commitment to the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and pledged to strengthen cooperation against the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) and al-Qaeda.

The United States already shares intelligence with Turkey concerning PKK separatist rebels based in mountainous northern Iraq from where they launch raids on Turkey.

Mending ties

A U.S. Army armored vehicle burns next to a junction on the airport highway in Baghdad

The Iraq war led to a chill in relations between the US and Turkey

Clinton's visit to Turkey and the announcement of Obama's visit is a part of the new US administration's attempt to improving ties between the two NATO members.

US-Turkish relations hit a low point in 2003 after the US-led invasion of Iraq. Turkey had refused at the time to allow the US to use its territory as a staging ground for invasion.

Turkish public opinion was overwhelmingly against the war and surveys showed a dramatic fall in the general public's view of the United States.

"The (Barack) Obama administration has a chance to rebuild on a better footing after the most acute problems accumulated in the Bush administration have finally been taken off the table," said an unnamed senior US official on condition of anonymity.

Clinton's visit to Ankara followed a stop in Geneva where she held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. She also spoke to the European Parliament in Brussels on Friday.

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