ANKARA - U.S. President Barack Obama said Turkey is a critical ally that the U.S. should work with to overcome the challanges of the 21st century in his historic speech at the Turkish parliament in Ankara on Monday. (UPDATED)
Obama covered various issues in his speech including the global economic crisis, Turkey's European Union bid, energy policies, Middle East conflicts, Iran and the ongoing normalization period between Turkey and Armenia. The U.S. President also used this opportunity to urge for better communication with the Muslim world.
"Some people have asked me if I chose to continue my travels to Ankara and Istanbul to send a message. My answer is simple: Evet ('Yes' in Turkish). Turkey is a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together – and work together – to overcome the challenges of our time," Obama told in his 45-minutes-long speech.
The U.S. and Turkey had disagreements time to time, but the two countries have stood together through many challenges over the last sixty years and because of the strength of this alliance and the endurance of this friendship, both America and Turkey are stronger, and the world is more secure, Obama added.
"So in meeting the challenges of the 21st century, we must seek the strength of a Europe that is truly united, peaceful and free. Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union. We speak not as members of the EU, but as close friends of Turkey and Europe. Turkey has been a resolute ally and a responsible partner in transatlantic and European institutions. And Turkey is bound to Europe by more than bridges over the Bosporus," Obama said in his speech.
Obama praised Turkey's reforms in its EU accession bid but urged more steps to be taken. He urged for the reopening of Halki seminary and the strengthening of minority rights.
The two democracies are confronted by an unprecedented set of challenges, Obama said and defined them as an economic crisis that recognizes no borders; extremism that leads to the killing of innocent men, women and children; strains on our energy supply and a changing climate; the proliferation of the world’s deadliest weapons, and the persistence of tragic conflict.
Messages to the Islamic world
The president declared that the U.S. is not at war with Islam and it will never be. "In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a violent ideology that people of all faiths reject. But I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to al Qaeda. Far from it. We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect," he added.
He pledged to be respectful, even when there are disagreements and to convey America's deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world for the better.
"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," he added.
Here are Obama's messages on other topics:
TURKEY-ARMENIA RELATIONS: Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915... We have already seen historic and courageous steps taken by Turkish and Armenian leaders. These contacts hold out the promise of a new day. An open border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence that would serve both of your nations. That is why the United States strongly supports the full normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.
ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis, and people of good will around the world. That is a goal that that the parties agreed to in the Roadmap and at Annapolis. And that is a goal that I will actively pursue as President... Both Israelis and Palestinians must take the steps that are necessary to build confidence.
IRAN: The peace of the region will also be advanced if Iran forgoes any nuclear weapons ambitions... I have made it clear to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic that the United States seeks engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect... Now, Iran’s leaders must choose whether they will try to build a weapon or build a better future for their people.
IRAQ: Both Turkey and the United States support a secure and united Iraq that does not serve as a safe-haven for terrorists... The United States will remove our combat brigades by the end of next August, while working with the Iraqi government as they take responsibility for security. And we will work with Iraq, Turkey, and all of Iraq’s neighbors, to forge a new dialogue that reconciles differences and advances our common security.
TERRORISM: Turkey, and the United States face a common threat from terrorism. That includes the al Qaeda terrorists who have sought to drive Iraqis apart and to destroy their country. And that includes the PKK. There is no excuse for terror against any nation. As President, and as a NATO ally, I pledge that you will have our support against the terrorist activities of the PKK. These efforts will be strengthened by the continued work to build ties of cooperation between Turkey, the Iraqi government, and Iraq’s Kurdish leaders, and by your continued efforts to promote education and opportunity for Turkey’s Kurds.
AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN DISPUTE: We share the common goal of denying al Qaeda a safe-haven in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The world has come too far to let this region backslide, and to let al Qaeda terrorists plot further attacks. That is why we are committed to a more focused effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. That is why we are increasing our efforts to train Afghans to sustain their own security, and to reconcile former adversaries. And that is why we are increasing our support for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, so that we stand on the side of their security, their opportunity, and the promise of a better life.