ANKARA-Turkey and the United States, whose relations suffered setbacks during the Bush administration, especially over the Iraq war, are unfolding the sails for a long-lasting, model partnership under the new administration, according to retired diplomats.
"The model partnership accented by U.S. President Barack Obama will cover not only military ties but all spheres and will differ from a strategic partnership in its length and invulnerability to crisis," Turkey's former Ambassador to Washington Nüzhet Kandemir told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review yesterday.
Turkey and the United States can build a "model partnership" between a predominantly Christian nation and a predominantly Muslim nation, Obama said in remarks Monday when he began official talks in Ankara during his first overseas visit as president.
"This is a very important message indicating the end of Turkey's label as a 'moderate Islamic country,' which was the nonsense uttered by previous President George W. Bush," said Kandemir.
Hailed as a moderate Islamic country supposed to play a major role in the now-dead Broader Middle East initiative launched by the Bush administration, Turkey is now being highlighted as a secular, democratic country in successive remarks by officials from the Obama team.
"That was a nice visit but must not be exaggerated. We need to keep our feet on the ground. It can be considered a useful start for Turkish-American relations," said Faruk Loğoğlu, who served as Turkey’s ambassador to Washington between 2001 and 2005, in a televised appearance on private channel CNNTürk.
He said Obama delivered very positive messages in his speech in Parliament.
"Obama did not flatter deputies in Parliament and instead gave important messages," veteran diplomat İnal Batu told the Daily News.
While praising the beauty of Turkish culture, the richness of its history and the strength of its democracy, the U.S. leader did not avoid urging Turkey to move forward in a number of areas including the freedom of religion and expression.
Obama's trip to Turkey came after his attendance at the G-20 summit in London, the NATO summit in Strasbourg and Kehl and the EU summit in Prague.
"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)," Obama said before the Turkish legislature.
Political observers find the visit after a European tour "meaningful," saying that the U.S. president could have ended up in Turkey following a regional tour of the Middle East, which would also give boost to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government praising itself as an influential power in the region. But Obama's trip in the wake of a European tour demonstrates that the new administration sees Turkey in the European axis, they say.
Batu said Obama wanted to restore America's reputation, not only in Turkey but also beyond, considering the Bush administration quarreled with its close allies Germany, France and Turkey as well as the Muslim world during the Iraq war.
"The Obama administration is not imposing pressure and is instead urging respect for international law and wants to regain America's tarnished image," he said.
During his election campaign, Obama pledged to recognize the killings of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire as genocide, a move seen as a risky element likely to poison bilateral relations with Washington. In Ankara, Obama said his views were "on the record" and "unchanged" but added the focus should be not on his views but on ongoing negotiations between Turkey and Armenia to normalize their relations.
"A serious head of state does not change views overnight. One cannot expect Obama to take a backward step, but he hints that he doesn't intend to create any crisis or overshadow the talks between Ankara and Yerevan," said Kandemir.