Obama Ends Turkish Visit With Town Hall Meeting
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
President Obama is in Istanbul today, the last city in his eight day trip to Europe. He toured two of the city's best-known historic sites, the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia museum with its rich mosaics and massive marble pillars. The final event on the president's schedule before boarding Air Force One was a town hall meeting with about 100 university students. NPR's Don Gonyea has been watching all of this and he joins us now.
DON GONYEA: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with that town hall. What kind of questions did the president get?
GONYEA: A range of topics. He was asked about climate change. He said the science is clear. The globe is warming. He was asked about the Middle East peace process. He said all sides are going to need to compromise. He reiterated his support for the two-state solution.
He was asked about his support of Turkey's bid to join the European Union. A stalled bid so far. He said if they can defend the region by sending troops to NATO they can sell apricots to Europe.
Then there was this one. It was interesting. It was about President Obama and President George W. Bush. Give a listen.
Unidentified Man: First, I will ask about the Bush and your differences at the core, because some says just the face has changed, but core is the same. Still they will have a fight with the Middle East and they will have a fight with the Iran.
MONTAGNE: That's a pretty pointed question. How did Mr. Obama respond?
GONYEA: He said there are differences. He paused a lot in this answer, I can tell you. But he said there are things that he and George W. Bush agree on. He said both agree that al-Qaida must be confronted and taken very seriously. On Iraq, he said he opposed the war, but ending it needs to be done responsibly. Then he gave another example of how they differ.
President BARACK OBAMA: When it comes to climate change George Bush didn't believe in climate change. I do believe in climate change. I think it's important. That doesn't mean that suddenly the day I'm elected I can say, ok, we're going to turn off all the lights and everybody's going to stop driving, right? All I can do is to start moving policies that over time are going to obtain a different result.
GONYEA: He gave us kind of a glimpse of how he has come to terms with the difference of being a candidate and being a president. He said, this is a quote, "States are like big tankers. They are not like speed boats. You can't just whip them around and go in a new direction. You have to go slowly." So he said judge him over time.
MONTAGNE: Now, this town hall meeting there in Istanbul was the second of the trip. There was also one in Strasberg, France. Sounds - feels a little like a campaign again.
GONYEA: It sure does, only with an international audience this time. And what it shows with these two town hall meetings in the space of less than a week is that he has decided he needs to reach out directly to people around the world, not just to presidents and prime ministers and to political leaders. That's something that White House adviser David Axelrod talked about when he spoke with reporters here in the briefing room in Istanbul. Give a listen. David Axelrod.
Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Obama adviser): One of the things that will make it easier for leaders of these nations to work cooperatively with us, moving forward, is the fact that we have a more positive image among their constituents.
GONYEA: And again, that word constituents. The sense is that if President Obama is popular around the world, he certainly is here in Europe, then that will make it easier for leaders to follow.
One other thing President Obama said is that he wants to change the impression people might have of Americans. He said if they watch television and listen to videos and pop culture and all that, they might see Americans as being selfish and crass. And he said he wants to make it very clear that that is not the case.
MONTAGNE: Don, overall, what seems to be the assessment of the trip? Did the president get what he wanted? Did he accomplish what he needed?
GONYEA: The president says time will tell, as does David Axelrod. He got some of what he wanted. Back at the G-20 summit, a full week ago, he got tougher regulations on banks internationally, a trillion dollars for the International Monetary Fund, but no new big stimulus from Europe. He got support for his plan for Afghanistan from NATO, but no combat troops. But he was very warmly received. And they think that means an awful lot.
MONTAGNE: Thanks, Don. NPR's Don Gonyea speaking to us from Istanbul.
GONYEA: Thank you.
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