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Obama in Turkey

msh/ncy, afp/ap/dpaApril 6, 2009

President Barack Obama has said that the US "is not at war with Islam." He also backed Ankara's EU aspirations and called on the country to patch up relations with Armenia.

President Barack Obama addresses the general assembly at the Turkish Parliament building in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, April 6, 2009.
Center stage in Ankara: Obama takes the floor in parliamentImage: AP

On the final leg of his first overseas trip in Turkey, President Barack Obama has reached out to the Muslim world, calling for a greater partnership between Islamic nations and the West.

"Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not at war with Islam," he said. "In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is crucial to rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject."

But Obama also said he didn't want the struggle against al Qaeda to be the defining feature of the relationship. He praised the Muslim faith as one of the defining forces in the modern world and promised to seek broad engagements, based on mutual interests and respect.

"The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans," he said. "Many other Americans have Muslims in their family or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them."

Turkey a crucial ally

President Barack Obama and Turkey's President Abdullah Gul hold a joint news conference in Ankara, Turkey.
Obama pointed out how important Turkey is to the USImage: AP

Addressing the Turkish parliament, he said that the US would soon launch outreach programs, in a bid to improve damaged relations after George W. Bush's administration. He described his visit as "a statement about the importance of Turkey, not just to the United States, but to the world."

Turkey is a key Muslim ally for the United States. Obama said that while the two countries don't agree on everything, they are stronger when working together. He also promised to support the country's bid to become a member of the European Union, despite objections from EU member-states like France and Germany.

"Europe gains by diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith - it is not diminished by it," he said. "And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundations once more."

Turkish public opinion towards the US suffered during the Bush years, not least because of the Iraq war. The influential Hurriyet newspaper published a front page headline on Monday saying, "Welcome, Mr. President. ... Our hearts have been broken over the last eight years, now it is time to mend hearts."

Silent on genocide

Protestors on the streets of Ankara demonstrate against Obama's presences. Most are angry over his 2008 comments on the mass murder of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915.
The president's visit wasn't just greeted with Turkish delightImage: picture alliance / landov

However there, have also been mass protests against the president's presence, not least because of his strong views about Turkey's relationship with Armenia.

Obama called for a full normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey, but wouldn't comment further on the mass murder of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915. Armenia argues that the killings were an act of genocide, Ankara disagrees.

Obama made it very clear during his 2008 election campaign that he considers it a "widely documented fact" that the killings amount to genocide. However, before parliament in Ankara he said his views on the matter weren't that important.

"This is really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past," he said. "And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive."

Marathon tour

President Barack Obama disembarks Air Force One as he arrives in Ankara, Turkey.
Obama will be flying home next time he boards Air Force OneImage: AP

Obama has now moved on from Ankara to Istanbul, where he will stay until Tuesday. He is expected to attend a reception, hosted by Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, for leaders attending a UN-backed international forum on bridging divisions between the Islamic world and the West.

The US president will also hold talks with religious leaders, hold a round-table meeting with university students, and visit two Istanbul landmarks, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, before leaving Turkey.

This is the last stop on Obama's maiden tour of Europe as president. It has also included visits to the UK, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.