Obama backs Palestinian state
Ankara, April 6, 2009
US President Barack Obama told Turkey's largely Muslim but secular democracy on Monday the US was not at war with Islam and that it wanted to reinvigorate efforts towards creating a Palestinian state.
Obama reiterated the US position after the new Israeli foreign minister said last week Israel was not bound by a US-backed deal to start talks on establishing a Palestinian state.
"Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," he said in a speech to Turkey's parliament.
Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed Obama's words, saying he had made a major commitment to the two-state solution. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel was committed to reach peace and would cooperate with the Obama administration to achieve that goal.
Obama is on the last leg of his debut trip on the world stage as president. Turkey is also his first to a Muslim country as president, a visit closely watched in the Islamic world.
He is trying to rebuild ties with Muslims after anger at the invasion of Iraq and war in Afghanistan, made more urgent by a resurgent al Qaeda and Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
"Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject," Obama said. "But I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to Al Qaeda. Far from it. We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding, and seek common ground."
Turkey is a major transit route for US troops and equipment destined for Iraq as well as Afghanistan. As the United States reduces its troops in Iraq, Incirlik air force base is expected to play a key role and Obama discussed this with Turkish leaders.
Obama's visit is also a nod to Turkey's regional reach, economic power, diplomatic contacts and status as a secular democracy seeking European Union membership that has accommodated political Islam.
"Given Turkish activity and credibility in the wider region stretching from Afghanistan to the Middle East, passing over energy transit routes, Obama wants to give new blood to a real strategic partnership with Turkey," said Cengiz Candar, a leading Turkish commentator and Middle East expert.
The US-Turkish relationship suffered in 2003 when Ankara opposed the invasion of Iraq and refused to let US troops deploy on its territory. Turkey has also criticised Washington for allowing Kurdish separatists to be based in northern Iraq.
Obama offered to improve cooperation in the fight against PKK separatist rebels and backed Turkey's troubled EU bid.
"Turkey's greatness lies in your ability to be at the center of things. This is not where East and West divide, it is where they come together," Obama said. - Reuters