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Obama reaches out to Muslim world

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Mr Obama called for a greater bond between Americans and Muslims

Barack Obama has declared that the US "is not at war with Islam", in a major speech during his first visit as president to a mainly Muslim country.

Addressing the Turkish parliament, Mr Obama called for a greater partnership with the Muslim world and said the US would soon launch outreach programmes.

"America's relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to al-Qaeda," he said.

Mr Obama also said Washington supported Turkey's efforts to join the EU.

Earlier, at a news conference with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, he urged Turkey to help bridge the gap between the Muslim and Western worlds.

OBAMA SPEECH

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He said his visit was a "statement about the importance of Turkey, not just to the United States, but to the world".

The US president began his visit to Turkey on Monday morning by laying a wreath at the tomb of the founder of modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whose "vision and courage" he praised.

He then travelled to the presidential palace in Ankara for talks with President Abdullah Gul, before giving an address to the Turkish Grand National Assembly.

Mr Obama devoted much of his speech to calling for a greater bond between Americans and Muslims, admitting that "the trust that binds us has been strained".

"Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not and will never be at war with Islam," he stated.

Barack Obama is greeted by Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish parliament (6 April 2009)
Mr Obama's remarks were welcomed by Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan

"In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject."

He said: "The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country - I know, because I am one of them."

"And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship," he said.

"There is an old Turkish proverb: 'You cannot put out fire with flames.'"

BBC North America editor Justin Webb in Ankara says there are some back in the US who wonder if Mr Obama is going too far, but his intention seems clear.

He is on a mission to charm with the hope that in years to come, there is a tangible benefit for America and the world, our correspondent says.

'Crucial ally'

In his speech, Mr Obama said the US considered Turkey a "critical ally", despite the deterioration of their relations over the war in Iraq.

He said that while they had not always agreed on everything, the two states were stronger when they worked together.

Obama is a seducer, in the nicest possible way of course. He smiles and refers to himself as Hussein and does all the other things that make Europeans swoon. Then he has his way. Or does he...?
Justin Webb
BBC North America editor

"That is why we must listen to one another, and seek common ground," he said.

The president also reiterated that the US government strongly supported Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union.

"Europe gains by diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith - it is not diminished by it," he said to a round of applause from the audience. "And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more."

The EU agreed to open accession talks with Ankara in 2004, but in recent years Turkey has made little progress with democratic reforms which would improve its chances of membership, correspondents say.

Later in his address, Mr Obama said the US strongly supported the full normalisation of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

At his earlier news conference with President Gul, he had stood by his 2008 assertion that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 constituted "genocide" - without repeating the word.

Anti-US protesters in Istanbul (6 April 2009)
Several groups have been demonstrating against the visit

The issue remains highly sensitive between the governments of Armenia and Turkey, which denies those killed were victims of systematic genocide, and has prevented normal relations between them for many years.

During his election campaign, Mr Obama said 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 historical evidence".

After his speech, Mr Obama was due to meet Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The US leader will then leave Ankara for Istanbul, where he will attend the Alliance of Civilizations forum.



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