Obama Works To Repair Turkey Ties

President Obama spoke to Turkey's parliament Monday, praising the country's commitment to secular democracy and supporting its bid for EU membership. Obama also told the overwhelmingly Muslim country that the U.S. is not an enemy of Islam.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

President Barack Obama spoke to the Turkish parliament today. Among other things, he praised Turkey's commitment to a secular democracy, and backed its stalled bid to join the European Union.

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.

NORRIS: That translates as yes. The president offered assurances to Turkey, where 99 percent of the population is Muslim, that the U.S. is not an enemy of the Islamic religion.

NPR's Don Gonyea is traveling with the president. He joins us now from Ankara. Hello, Don.

DON GONYEA: Hi, Michele.

NORRIS: Now, the president's trip to Europe included stops in Britain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. What are his goals now in Turkey?

GONYEA: Well, this is a prestigious thing to be included with those other nations as part of this first overseas trip on the part of Mr. Obama. And the trip itself is a very overt act of sending both appreciation to Turkey and respect to this country that straddles Europe and Asia.

This is a longtime member of the NATO alliance. Turkey contributed to the war in Afghanistan. And, again, no small thing. The president wants to praise a democracy that he says is an example of the rest of the Muslim world. And he really made the point today in this speech, give a listen, that they built this democracy as part of their own achievement.

Pres. OBAMA: It was not forced upon you by any outside power, nor did it come without struggle and sacrifice. Turkey draws strength from both the successes of the past and from the efforts of each generation of Turks that makes new progress for your people.

GONYEA: And Michele, Turkey occupies a unique place as a Muslim country, as a democracy. The president sees it as being a go-between, helping the U.S. reach out to the wider Muslim world.

NORRIS: But even with that kind of friendship on display, Turkey had problems with the Iraq war. It prevented the U.S. from using Turkey as a staging area. How did the president address those kinds of disagreements today?

GONYEA: He acknowledged in this speech to the parliament that trust has, at times, been strained. And he said - this is a quote - let me say this as clearly as I can, the United States is not at war with Islam. Then he went on to say that the relationship has to be full and not just based on one thing.

Pres. OBAMA: I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world cannot and will not just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful even when we do not agree.

GONYEA: And he talked about how Muslims have enriched America. He says many in America have ties to the Muslim faith. And he said, quote, I am one of them.

NORRIS: Another potential pressure point in what is supposed to be a show of camaraderie are the concerns about the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks nearly 100 years ago, the question of whether or not Barack Obama would use the word genocide.

GONYEA: And he did not use the word genocide. But during the campaign in 2008, he did use the word genocide. Now, he says he should not impose his view on what he says should be talks between Turkey and the Armenians to address this issue and put it behind them. He said it's important that they do that.

NORRIS: And Don, his final stop on the trip is actually tomorrow in Istanbul. What will he be doing there?

GONYEA: He's going to meet with religious leaders. He's going to visit the famed and just beautiful Blue Mosque. And he has a meeting with students.

NORRIS: Don, we just heard the president speaking in the native tongue there. Have you been there long enough to figure out how to say goodbye?

GONYEA: I have not. I've been stuck in the bubble.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: All right. So we'll just - we'll just say goodbye, then.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Thank you, Don.

GONYEA: Thank you.

NORRIS: That's NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

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