Monday, April 06, 2009

Our Man in Washington


"Yes, Achmed."

"Did you see the headline, Abdul?"

"No, Achmed. What does it say?"

"It says Hussein Obama has commanded his country to accept Islam. Praise Allah."

"Then we have won, have we not, Achmed?"

"Yes. We have won. And the infidel nation shall accept the will of Allah. Hussein Obama shall lead them. It is a great day."

Obama Tells Turkey U.S. Is ‘Not at War With Islam’

April 6 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama used an address in the Turkish capital to stress that the U.S. isn’t “at war with Islam,” as he pledged to ease tensions between the West and the Muslim world.

“I know that the trust that binds us has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced,” Obama said in a speech today to the Turkish parliament in Ankara. “Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not at, and will never be, at war with Islam.

Obama, on the first stop of a two-day trip to Turkey, his first as president to a Muslim country, stressed the cultural ties and shared history between the U.S. and Turkey in an alliance that has made the world “more secure.” The two can use that partnership to bridge the religious and cultural divide between the West and the predominantly Muslim east, he said.

He pledged to lend U.S. support to combat the “terrorist activities” of the Kurdish separatist movement, the PKK. The U.S. is prepared to be a partner to help work through the issue of Armenian massacres in 1915, and “strongly supports” Turkish membership of the European Union, Obama said.

“Turkey is bound to Europe by more than bridges over the Bosporus,” he said. “Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe’s foundation once more.”

NATO Objections

Obama also championed Turkish EU membership yesterday in Prague during a U.S.-EU informal summit, one day after he helped overcome Turkish objections to Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“Turkey is key to Washington’s design to improve relations with the Muslim world,” said Josh Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Obama told the Turkish lawmakers that a “partnership with the Muslim world is critical.”
Obama, 47, is meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after earlier holding talks with President Abdullah Gul. He will travel to Istanbul tomorrow.

“The struggle with terrorism is one of the important issues for both countries,” Gul, 58, told reporters after the talks. “We will advance our partnership to a new level. We are determined to be hand-in-hand on a range of issues.”

Street Protests

Turkish police arrested 15 people as several hundred demonstrators protesting U.S. policies tried to march on the parliament in Ankara, NTV television reported.

Inside, Obama said that for America to address a global economic crisis, religious extremism, climate change and weapons proliferation, it will need the help of its allies.

“No one nation can confront these challenges alone,” he said. “That is why we must listen to one another, and seek common ground.”

During his presidential campaign, Obama vowed to undertake a vigorous “public diplomacy program” that would distinguish his approach to foreign relations from that of former President George W. Bush.

Relying on international help will be “the approach of the United States of America going forward,” Obama said, as he continued to distance himself from his predecessor.

The president’s visit to Ankara and Istanbul is noteworthy also because Turkey, the only mainly Muslim member of NATO, angered the Bush administration by refusing to allow the U.S. to use its soil as a staging ground for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Iran Energy Accord

Bilateral tensions escalated further after the Turkish government reached an energy accord with Iran over American objections and criticized Israel’s December incursion into Gaza.

Obama said the U.S. will “continue to support your central role as an East-West corridor for oil and gas.” On Iraq, he asked for countries to set aside their differences on how the war began and instead work to end it. He said the U.S. will engage with “all of Iraq’s neighbors” to “forge a new dialogue that reconciles differences and advances our common security.”

He urged Palestinians and Israelis to work together for statehood, reiterating his support for a two state solution.

“Both Israelis and Palestinians must take the steps that are necessary to build confidence,” he said.

He also continued his outreach to Iran, which borders Iraq, calling it a “great civilization.”

‘Model Partnership’

Speaking to reporters after talks with Gul, Obama said the U.S. Turkish relationship could develop into a “model partnership” that lays “the foundation of a modern international community that is respectful, that is secure, that is prosperous.”

Campaigning for president, then-U.S. Senator Obama called the 1915 conflict between Turks and Armenians a “genocide.” He declined to use that language today, saying at the press conference that “I have not changed views.” In his speech, he acknowledged that “the United States is still working through some of our own darker periods,” mentioning the treatment of Native Americans.

Obama, stressing the need for engagement based on “mutual interests and mutual understand,” said the U.S. will present specific programs relating to the Muslim world in the coming months.

“When people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship,” he said in parliament.

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