Obama: U.S. Is Not At War With Islam
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
And I'm Ari Shapiro.
President Obama is in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. It's the final country he'll visit on a weeklong overseas trip that wraps up tomorrow. The president addressed the Turkish parliament this morning, praising the country's long commitment to democracy.
President BARACK OBAMA: Some people have asked me if I chose to continue my travels to Ankara and Istanbul to send a message to the world. And my answer is simple: Evet. Yes.
(Soundbite of applause)
Pres. OBAMA: Turkey is a critical ally.
SHAPIRO: Mr. Obama arrived in Turkey last night after stops in Britain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. NPR's Don Gonyea is traveling with the president, and he joins us now from Ankara. Good morning, Don.
DON GONYEA: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So when the president talks about the U.S. and Turkey working together, what, specifically, is he referring to?
GONYEA: Well, remember, Turkey is a Muslim nation - 99 percent Muslim, in fact. And it is a member of the NATO alliance. It is, as the president said, a strong ally of the U.S. And today, he said even though there have been differences over the Iraq war and some other areas, he really praised Turkey for being a strong, secular democracy. And with really pressing issues, such as the situations in Afghanistan and in Pakistan on the table, he sees Turkey, a Muslim country, as being a possible and critical go-between of sorts. He talked about that today, offering some reassurance. Give a listen.
Pres. OBAMA: I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained. And I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.
GONYEA: So you can hear, that is something that an American president - this American president has to say, just because of the controversy still in the Muslim world and places like Turkey over the Iraq war.
SHAPIRO: And President Obama also raised a delicate subject during this speech. He brought up the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks early in the 20th century. Many people refer to this as genocide. Turkey rejects that term. Tell us what Mr. Obama said.
GONYEA: Well, he said it's important for Turkey and Armenia to talk about this, to work this out, that his view shouldn't be imposed on the issue. Now, his views happen to be well-known here in Turkey even though he did not express them today. When he was a candidate, on his campaign Web site just over a year ago, this statement, attributed to him said, quote, the Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of evidence.
He did not use the genocide word in his speech today. He also talked to America's own dark history, he said, involving slavery. And he said human endeavor is not perfect. Give a listen to the president on this topic.
Pres. OBAMA: I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there's been a good deal of commentary about my views, it's really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. 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.
SHAPIRO: And on the next and final stop on this trip is going to be Istanbul. Tell me what's on the agenda there.
GONYEA: Right. We'll fly there tonight. And it is just one day there, actually less than 24 hours there. He will visit some important landmarks, the Blue Mosque. He will have a roundtable with some university students, and he will meet with religious leaders. Again, many of these same topics will come up there. And again, it is part of the symbolism of his coming to this country that he talked about at the top of the speech to the parliament in Ankara today.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Don Gonyea in Ankara, Turkey. Thanks, Don, and safe travels.
GONYEA: All right. My pleasure.