Obama reaches out to Muslim world

President says US 'will never be at war with Islam'

"I like Obama because he is half-Muslim and everybody here hated Bush because of what he did in Iraq," said Kassim, a Turkish driver, as he sped past the ornate Ottoman palace on the Bosphorus where Barack Obama is due to speak today.

Mr Obama has already gone a long way towards restoring Turkey to its former position as a crucial American ally in the region. Relations soured after the Turks refused to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Yesterday, in a speech to the Turkish parliament, Mr Obama reached out to Turkey as an ally and to the rest of the Muslim world with the assurance that the US "is not and will never be at war with Islam".

Kassim had already decided that it did not matter what Mr Obama's religion was. What mattered was that many of his policies "seem to show that he wants the same things that we do". This attitude is a radical change from a few years ago when an opinion poll showed only 9 per cent of Turks had a favourable opinion of the US.

In his address to the Ankara parliament before travelling on to Istanbul, Mr Obama also called on the EU to admit Turkey as a member. France has strongly opposed its inclusion and enthusiasm for EU entry has fallen among Turks. Nevertheless the long-term aim of joining is important in making Turkey less autocratic and reducing the role of the Turkish army in taking crucial decisions.

Mr Obama danced around contentious issues such as the 1915 Armenian genocide and the rights of Turkey's Kurdish minority. "My views are on the record and I have not changed those views," he said during a press conference with President Abdullah Gul, referring to his pledge during the US presidential election campaign to describe the killing of Armenians during the First World War as genocide.

The word Mr Obama did not use yesterday was "genocide" and he went on to praise Turkey for moving towards an accord with Armenia and a reopening of the border which has been closed since Armenia's war with Azerbaijan in 1993.

Mr Obama showed similar delicacy in referring to Turkish Kurds, praising signs of greater official tolerance towards them such as a Kurdish-language TV channel. But he then swiftly denounced the PKK Kurdish guerrillas, against whom the Turkish army has fought a long war, as "terrorists."

Turkish leaders were surprised that Mr Obama, who had shown little interest in Turkey previously, should have chosen to visit their country at the end of his European tour.

The decisive factor was probably Turkey's geographical position, since it has common borders with Iraq, Iran, Syria and Georgia. About 70 per cent of US supplies to Iraq go through Turkish ports or airspace, or travel via Turkish roads. With the American military's supply routes to Afghanistan through Pakistan increasingly under threat, the use of Turkish airspace and airbases is again important.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had already shown his eagerness to get along with the incoming US administration by withdrawing Turkey's veto of the appointment of the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as Nato's secretary general.

Turkey objected to his appointment because of his failure to apologise for the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed published in a Danish magazine in 2005. Mr Rasmussen has since promised to be more sensitive to Muslim sensibilities, a promise which, since Turkey has the largest army in Nato after the US, he will probably have to keep.

Mr Obama went through the ritual yesterday of visiting the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish secular state, while today he will visit Hagia Sophia, the great Byzantine church in Istanbul and the nearby Blue Mosque, as well as speaking at a UN-sponsored conference on reducing religious and ethnic divisions.

Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is clearly revelling in Mr Obama's praise of Turkey and of the AKP's cautiously progressive and Islamic policies. No other Turkish party is a serious political rival to the AKP, which won power in 2002. It lost some ground in municipal elections on 29 March but this setback was largely in terms of its inflated expectations.

The army's ability to manipulate the state from behind the scenes has not disappeared but is not as strong as it was. And although the international financial crisis is having an effect on the Turkish economy it has not yet had a devastating impact.

One of George Bush's key failures when he invaded Iraq was not persuading Turkey to allow him to base an American invasion force in the country. Over the proceeding five years, Turkey increasingly pursued friendlier policies towards Iran, Russia, Sudan and Hamas.

The Turks are now delighted to discover that their policies are very similar to those adopted by Mr Obama.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home