Obama reaches out to Muslims – President pleads for change in tone of dialogue with Islamic world, saying ‘there will never be war’
ANKARA, Turkey – When President Barack Obama declared yesterday that the United States “is not, and will never be, at war with Islam,” he was talking to Turkey’s parliament. But his audience was the wider Muslim world.
The president’s ringing affirmation of partnership with Turkey, which he described as a vital bridge between East and West, was interwoven with a highly personal appeal for a change in the tone of discourse between the United States and the world’s Muslims.
The speech, the centrepiece of the president’s first official visit to a Muslim-majority nation, was widely watched outside Turkey and was covered live on the largest Arabic-language satellite television channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya.
In a 26-minute address punctuated several times by applause, Obama reiterated American support for Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union – although only a day earlier, France and Germany had renewed reservations about it.
Obama also hailed what he described as warming ties between Turkey and its neighbour Armenia, which have long been shadowed by Turkey’s denial that the mass killing of ethnic Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide.
In apparent deference to Turkey’s status as a secular republic, Obama’s aides refrained from characterizing his speech in the capital, Ankara, as a fulfilment of the pledge he made to address the Muslim world in his first 100 days in office.
But commentators in Turkey interpreted his remarks before the Grand National Assembly as a determined effort to shake off the deep-seated mistrust that characterized President George W. Bush’s administration’s dealings with the governments of many predominantly Muslim nations. “Let me say this as clearly as I can,” Obama said. “The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical.”
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