Obama in Turkey to boost with 'critical ally'

6th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

A two-day visit in Turkey will see US President Barack Obama reaching out to the mainly Muslim country in an attempt to mend strained relations.

Ankara – Turkish media on Monday hailed US President Barack Obama ahead of his meeting with Turkish leaders aiming to revitalise US ties with the key Muslim ally.

Obama flew to Ankara on Sunday with a strong message in support of Turkey's bid to join the European Union, earning himself a warm welcome in a country where his predecessor left the US image in tatters.

"Bravo Obama," the popular Sabah daily trumpeted on its front-page, while the mass-selling Hurriyet headlined in English: "Welcome, Mr President."

Obama's two-day visit is the final leg of his maiden trip to Europe and his first visit to a mainly Muslim country since becoming president in January.

He was to hold talks with President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visit the Turkish parliament and address the general assembly.

"The president's address will reaffirm his belief that Turkey is a critical ally, and an important part of Europe," a senior US official said on condition of anonymity ahead of the talks.

"The president wanted to visit Turkey because he believes it's important that we take steps to renew the US-Turkey relationship, which has drifted in recent years," he added.

Turkey has been a close ally of the United States in a strategic region between Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East, bordering troubled countries such as Georgia, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Bilateral ties were strained under President George W Bush when Turkey denied US troops a permission to use its territory in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Erdogan's Islamist-rooted government has forged closer ties with Iran, welcomed leaders of the radical Palestinian movement Hamas in Ankara and kept close ties with Sudan, giving rise to fears that Ankara is drifting away fom the West.

Before flying into Turkey, Obama attended an EU summit in Prague where he urged the 27-nation bloc to embrace Turkey, saying membership would firmly anchor Turkey into the West.

His remarks drew the ire of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who reasserted his opposition to Turkey's accession, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who insisted that the issue remains an open question.

In Ankara, Obama "will discuss the progress of Turkey's own democratic reforms, and will reaffirm US support of Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union," the US official said.

The president was to begin his programme by laying a wreath at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's secularist founder who steered the country to the West.

Tight security measures were in place for Obama, with about 4,000 police officers on duty and traffic blocked on his route.

His talks with Turkish leaders were also to focus on the war on terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, relations with Iran, and the Middle East peace process, the US official said.

The president was to go to Istanbul later in the day to make a brief appearance at an UN-backed international forum on bridging divisions between the Islamic world and the West, co-chaired by Turkey and Spain.

On Tuesday, he was expected to meet religious leaders, hold a round-table meeting with university students and visit two Istanbul landmarks, the Hagia Sophia church and the Blue Mosque, before leaving Turkey.

AFP / Expatica

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