Iran Election Guide

Donate to EAWV

Or, click to learn more


Entries in G-20 Summit (3)


Video and Transcript: President Obama's Town Hall Meeting in Turkey

Related Post: Turkey, We Need You - Obama’s Ankara Speech
Related Post: Video and Transcript of Obama Speech in Turkey

In France and Germany after the NATO Summit, President Obama held a "Town Hall Meeting" with young people. He did the same in Turkey yesterday after his speech to the Parliament. Here's the full video:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much. Well, it is a great pleasure to be here.

Let me begin by thanking Professor Rahmi Aksungur -- did I say that properly -- who is director of the university here. And I want to thank all the young people who've gathered together. This is a great privilege for me and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm going to make a few remarks at the beginning and then I want to spend most of the time having an exchange and giving you an opportunity to ask -- ask questions of me and I may ask some questions of you.

So as I said yesterday, I came to Turkey on my first trip overseas as President for a reason, and it's not just to see the beautiful sights here in Istanbul. I came here to reaffirm the importance of Turkey and the importance of the partnership between our two countries. I came here out of my respect to Turkey's democracy and culture and my belief that Turkey plays a critically important role in the region and in the world. And I came to Turkey because I'm deeply committed to rebuilding a relationship between the United States and the people of the Muslim world -- one that's grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect.

Turkey and the United States have a long history of partnership and cooperation. Exchanges between our two peoples go back over 150 years. We've been NATO allies for more than five decades. We have deep ties in trade and education, in science and research. And America is proud to have many men and women of Turkish origin who have made our country a more dynamic and a more successful place. So Turkish- American relations rest on a strong foundation.

That said, I know there have been some difficulties in recent years. In some ways, that foundation has been weakening. We've had some specific differences over policy, but we've also at times lost the sense that both of our countries are in this together -- that we have shared interests and shared values and that we can have a partnership that serves our common hopes and common dreams.

So I came here to renew that foundation and to build on it. I enjoyed visiting your parliament. I've had productive discussions with your President and your Prime Minister. But I also always like to take some time to talk to people directly, especially young people. So in the next few minutes I want to focus on three areas in which I think we can make some progress: advancing dialogue between our two countries, but also advancing dialogue between the United States and the Muslim world; extending opportunity in education and in social welfare; and then also reaching out to young people as our best hope for peaceful, prosperous futures in both Turkey and in the United States.

Now, let me just talk briefly about those three points.

First, I believe we can have a dialogue that's open, honest, vibrant, and grounded in respect. And I want you to know that I'm personally committed to a new chapter of American engagement. We can't afford to talk past one another, to focus only on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us.

Instead we have to listen carefully to each other. We have to focus on places where we can find common ground and respect each other's views, even when we disagree. And if we do so I believe we can bridge some of our differences and divisions that we've had in the past. A part of that process involves giving you a better sense of America. I know that the stereotypes of the United States are out there, and I know that many of them are informed not by direct exchange or dialogue, but by television shows and movies and misinformation. Sometimes it suggests that America has become selfish and crass, or that we don't care about the world beyond us. And I'm here to tell you that that's not the country that I know and it's not the country that I love.

America, like every other nation, has made mistakes and has its flaws. But for more than two centuries we have strived at great cost and sacrifice to form a more perfect union, to seek with other nations a more hopeful world. We remain committed to a greater good, and we have citizens in countless countries who are serving in wonderful capacities as doctors and as agricultural specialists, people -- teachers -- people who are committed to making the world a better place.

We're also a country of different backgrounds and races and religions that have come together around a set of shared ideals. And we are still a place where anybody has a chance to make it if they try. If that wasn't true, then somebody named Barack Hussein Obama would not be elected President of the United States of America. That's the America I want you to know.

Second, I believe that we can forge a partnership with Turkey and across the Muslim world on behalf of greater opportunity. This trip began for me in London at the G-20, and one of the issues we discussed there was how to help peoples and countries who, through no fault of their own, are being very hard hit by the current world economic crisis. We took some important steps to extend a hand to emerging markets and developing countries by setting aside over a trillion dollars to the International Monetary Fund and by making historic investments in food security.

But there's also a larger issue of how Turkey and America can help those who have been left behind in this new global economy. All of our countries have poverty within it. All of it -- all of our countries have young people who aren't obtaining the opportunities that they need to get the education that they need. And that's not just true here in Turkey or in the United States, but that's true around the world. And so we should be working together to figure out how we can help people live out their dreams.

Here there's great potential for the United States to work with Muslims around the world on behalf of a more prosperous future. And I want to pursue a new partnership on behalf of basic priorities: What can we do to help more children get a good education? What can we do to expand health care to regions that are on the margins of global society? What steps can we take in terms of trade and investment to create new jobs and industries and ultimately advance prosperity for all of us? To me, these are the true tests of whether we are leaving a world that is better and more hopeful than the one we found.

Finally, I want to say how much I'm counting on young people to help shape a more peaceful and prosperous future. Already, this generation, your generation, has come of age in a world that's been marked by change that's both dramatic and difficult. While you are empowered through unprecedented access to information and invention, you're also confronted with big challenges -- a global economy in transition, climate change, extremism, old conflicts but new weapons. These are all issues that you have to deal with as young people both in Turkey and around the world.

In America, I'm proud to see a new spirit of activism and responsibility take root. I've seen it in the young Americans who are choosing to teach in our schools or volunteer abroad. I saw it in my own presidential campaign where young people provided the energy and the idealism that made effort possible. And I've seen it wherever I travel abroad and speak to groups like this. Everywhere I go I find young people who are passionate, engaged, and deeply informed about the world around them.

So as President, I'd like to find new ways to connect young Americans to young people all around the world, by supporting opportunities to learn new languages, and serve and study, welcoming students from other countries to our shores. That's always been a critical part of how America engages the world. That's how my father, who was from Kenya, from Africa, came to the United States and eventually met my mother. It's how Robert College was founded so long ago here in Istanbul.

Simple exchanges can break down walls between us, for when people come together and speak to one another and share a common experience, then their common humanity is revealed. We are reminded that we're joined together by our pursuit of a life that's productive and purposeful, and when that happens mistrust begins to fade and our smaller differences no longer overshadow the things that we share. And that's where progress begins.

So to all of you, I want you to know that the world will be what you make of it. You can choose to build new bridges instead of building new walls. You can choose to put aside longstanding divisions in pursuit of lasting peace. You can choose to advance a prosperity that is shared by all people and not just the wealthy few. And I want you to know that in these endeavors, you will find a partner and a supporter and a friend in the United States of America.

So I very much appreciate all of you joining me here today. And now what I'd like to do is take some questions. I think we've got -- do we have some microphones in the audience? So what I'd like to do is people can just raise their hands and I'll choose each person -- if you could stand up and introduce yourself. I have a little microphone in my pocket here in case you're speaking Turkish, because my Turkish is not so good -- (laughter) -- and I'll have a translator for me.

OK? All right. And I want to make sure that we end before the call to prayer, so we have about -- it looks like we have about half an hour. All right? OK, we'll start right here.

QUESTION: I'm from the university. I want to ask some questions about climate issue. Yesterday you said that peace in home and peace in world, but to my opinion, firstly the peace should be in nature. For this reason, I wonder that when the USA will sign the Kyoto Protocol.

OBAMA: Well, it's an excellent question. Is this mike working? It is? OK. Thank you very much. What was your name?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

OBAMA: As many of you know, I think the science tells us that the planet is getting warmer because of carbon gases that are being sent into the atmosphere. And if we do not take steps soon to deal with it, then you could see an increase of three, four, five degrees, which would have a devastating effect -- the oceans would rise; we don't know what would happen to the beauty of Istanbul if suddenly the seas rise. Changing weather patterns would create extraordinary drought in some regions, floods in others. It could have a devastating effect on human civilization. So we've got to take steps to deal with this.

When the Kyoto Protocol was put forward, the United States opted out of it, as did China and some other countries -- and I think that was a mistake, particularly because the United States and -- is the biggest carbon -- has been the biggest carbon producer. China is now becoming the biggest carbon producer because its population is so large. And so we need to bring an international agreement together very soon.

It doesn't make sense for the United States to sign Kyoto because Kyoto is about to end. So instead what my administration is doing is preparing for the next round, which is -- there will be discussions in Copenhagen at the end of this year. And what we want to do is to prepare an agenda both in the United States and work internationally so that we can start making progress on these issues.

Now, there are a number of elements. Number one, we have to be more energy efficient. And so all countries around the world should be sharing technology and information about how we can reduce the usage of electricity, and how we can make our transportation more efficient, make our cars get better gas mileage. Reducing the amount of energy we use is absolutely critical.

We should also think about are there ways that if we're using fossil fuels -- oil, coal, other fossil fuels -- are there ways of capturing or reducing the carbon emissions that come from them?

So this is going to be a big, big project and a very difficult one and a very costly one. And I don't want to -- I don't want to lie to you: I think the politics of this in every country is going to be difficult, because if you suddenly say to people, you have to change your factory to make it more energy efficient -- well, that costs the factory owner money. If you say to a power plant, you have to produce energy in a different way, and that costs them money, then they want to pass that cost on to consumers, which means everybody's electricity prices go up -- and that is something that is not very popular.

So there are going to be big political struggles in every country to try to ratify an agreement on these issues. And that's why it's going to be so important that young people like yourself who will be suffering the consequences if we don't do something, that you are active politically in making sure that politicians in every country are responsive to these issues and that we educate the public more than we have so far.

But it is excellent question, thank you.

All right, this gentleman right here.

QUESTION: Thank you. I'm studying at Bahcesehir University, and my major is energy engineering, so...

OBAMA: Oh, there you go. You could have given an even better answer.

QUESTION: Yes, I hope we will solve that problem in the future. So my question is, what actions will you take after you wrote quote, peace at home, peace at the world, to do...

OBAMA: I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?

QUESTION: What actions will you take after you wrote your quote, peace at home and peace at the world, to -- (inaudible) -- and what do you think, as Turkish young men and women, how can we help you at this purpose you have?

OBAMA: Well, some people say that maybe I'm being too idealistic. I made a speech in Prague about reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, and some people said, ah, that will never happen. And some people have said, why are you discussing the Middle East when it's not going to be possible for the Israelis and the Palestinians to come together? Or, why are you reaching out to the Iranians, because the U.S. and Iran can never agree on anything?

My attitude is, is that all these things are hard. I mean, I'm not naive. If it was easy, it would have already been done. Somebody else would have done it. But if we don't try, if we don't reach high, then we won't make any progress. And I think that there's a lot of progress that can be made.

And as I said in my opening remarks, I think the most important thing to start with is dialogue. When you have a chance to meet people from other cultures and other countries, and you listen to them and you find out that, even though you may speak a different language or you may have a different religious faith, it turns out that you care about your family, you have your same hopes about being able to have a career that is useful to the society, you hope that you can raise a family of your own, and that your children will be healthy and have a good education -- that all those things that human beings all around the world share are more important than the things that are different.

And so that is a very important place to start. And that's where young people can be very helpful, because I think old people, we get into habits and we become suspicious and we carry grudges. Right? You know, it was interesting when I met with President Medvedev of Russia and we actually had a very good dialogue, and we were -- we spoke about the fact that although both of us were born during the Cold War, we came of age after the Cold War had already begun to decline, which means we have a slightly different attitude than somebody who was seeing Russia only as the Soviet Union -- only as an enemy or who saw America only as an enemy.

So young people, they can get rid of some of the old baggage and the old suspicions, and I think that's very important. But understanding alone is not enough. Then you -- we actually have to do the work.

And for the United States, I think that means that we have to make sure that our actions are responsible, so on international issues like climate change we have to take leadership. If we're producing a lot of pollution that's causing global warming, then we have to step forward and say, here's what we're willing to do, and then ask countries like China to join us.

If we want to say to Iran, don't develop nuclear weapons because if you develop them then everybody in the region is going to want them and you'll have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and that will be dangerous for everybody -- if we want to say that to Iranians, it helps if we are also saying, "and we will reduce our own," so that we have more moral authority in those claims.

If we want to communicate to countries that we sincerely care about the well-being of their people, then we have to make sure that our aid programs and our assistance programs are meaningful.

So words are good and understanding is good, but ultimately it has to translate into concrete actions. And it takes time. I was just talking to my press team and they were amused because some of my reporter friends from the States were asking, how come you didn't solve everything on this trip? They said, well, you know, it's only been a week. These things take time and the idea is that you lay the groundwork and slowly, over time, if you make small efforts, they can add up into big efforts. And that's, I think, the approach that we want to take in promoting more peace and prosperity around the world.

OK, let me make sure I get all sides of the room here. This young lady right here.

QUESTION: In one of your interviews you said you want us to be a member of the European Union. But after that, Nicolas Sarkozy said, it's not yours, it's European Union decision. Now I want to ask you that what's your opinion, and why Nicolas Sarkozy said that? Is that because he's more likely to support the so-called Armenian genocide?

OBAMA: You know, the -- I don't think -- well, first of all, it's true, I'm not a member of -- the United States is not a member of the European Union, so it's not our decision to make. But that doesn't prevent me from having an opinion. I mean, I notice the Europeans have had a lot of opinions about U.S. policy for a long time, right? They haven't been shy about giving us suggestions about what we should be doing, so I don't think there's anything wrong with us reciprocating. That's what friends do -- we try to be honest about what we think is the right approach. I think it is the right approach to have Turkey join the European Union. I think if Turkey can be a member of NATO and send its troops to help protect and support its allies, and its young men are put in harm's way, well, I don't know why you should also not be able to sell apricots to Europe, or have more freedom in terms of travel.

So I think it's the right thing to do. I also think it would send a strong signal that Europe is not monolithic but is diverse and that that is a source of strength instead of weakness. So that's my opinion.

Now, President Sarkozy is a good friend and a good ally. As I said, friends are going to sometimes disagree on this. I haven't had a lengthy conversation with him about his position on this issue. My hope is, is that as time goes on and as trust builds, that this is ultimately something that occurs.

I don't get a sense that his opposition is related to the Armenian issue. I don't think that's it. I think it's a more fundamental issue of whether he's confident about Turkey's ability to integrate fully. But you'll probably have to ask him directly. So maybe when he comes here he'll have a town hall meeting like this one.

OK, the gentleman right there. Yes, go ahead. Here's a microphone.

QUESTION: First, I will ask about the Bush and you differences at the core, because some say just the face has changed and that -- but core is the same still. They will have a fight with the Middle East and they will have a fight with Iran.

And my second question is more in part to this. You will let the Kurdish state in northern Iraq? You will let -- you'll allow this?

OBAMA: OK, the...

QUESTION: Thank you.

OBAMA: Yes. Well, let me answer -- I'll answer the Kurdish question first. You know, we are very clear about our position on Turkish territorial integrity. Turkey is an ally of ours and part of what NATO allies do is to protect the territorial integrity of their allies. And so we are -- we would be opposed to anything that would start cutting off parts of Turkey, and we have been very supportive in efforts to reduce terrorist activity by the PKK.

Now, I also think that it's important that the Kurdish minority inside of Turkey is free to advance in the society and that they have equal opportunity, that they have free political expression, that they are not suppressed in terms of opportunity. And I think that the President and Prime Minister are committed to that, but I want to continually encourage allowing -- whether it's religious minorities or ethnic minorities -- to be full parts of the society. And that, I think, is very, very important.

The first question, if I understood you correctly, is the suggestion that even though I present a different face from Bush, that the policies are the same and so there's really not much difference.

And, you know, I think this will be tested in time because as I said before, moving the ship of state is a slow process. States are like big tankers, they're not like speedboats. You can't just whip them around and go in a new direction. Instead you've got to slowly move it and then eventually you end up in a very different place.

So let me just give you a few examples. When it comes to Iraq, I opposed the war in Iraq. I thought it was a bad idea. Now that we're there, I have a responsibility to make sure that as we bring troops out, that we do so in a careful enough way that we don't see a complete collapse into violence. So some people might say, wait, I thought you were opposed to the war, why don't you just get them all out right away? Well, just because I was opposed at the outset it doesn't mean that I don't have now responsibilities to make sure that we do things in a responsible fashion.

When it comes to climate change, George Bush didn't believe in climate change. I do believe in climate change, I think it's important. That doesn't mean that suddenly the day I'm elected I can say, OK, we're going to turn off all the lights and everybody is going to stop driving. Right? All I can do is to start moving policies that over time are going to obtain different results.

And then it is true, though, that there are some areas where I agree with many of my friends in the United States who are on the opposite political party. For example, I agree that Al Qaida is an enormous threat not just to the United States but to the world. I have no sympathy and I have no patience for people who would go around blowing up innocent people for a political cause. I don't believe in that.

So, yes, I think that it is just and right for the United States and NATO allies and other allies from around the world to do what we can to eliminate the threat of Al Qaida. Now, I think it's important that we don't just do that militarily. I think it's important that we provide educational opportunities for young people in Pakistan and Afghanistan so that they see a different path. And so my policies will be somewhat different, but I don't make any apologies for continuing the effort to prevent bombs going off or planes going into buildings that would kill innocents. I don't think any society can justify that.

And so, as I said, four years from now or eight years from now, you can look back and you can see maybe what he did wasn't that different, and hopefully you'll come to the conclusion that what I did made progress.

Yes, this young lady right here.

QUESTION: First of all, welcome to our country, Turkey. I would like to continue in Turkish if it's possible.

OBAMA: Yes, let me -- wait, wait, wait. See, I've got my...

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

OBAMA: Hold on.

QUESTION: (As translated.) My first question is that in the event that Turkey becomes an EU member, what -- how will that -- how is that...

OBAMA: OK, try again.

QUESTION: In the event that Turkey becomes a member of the EU, how will that affect U.S. foreign policy and the alliance of civilizations? And my second question is a little more personal. We watched your election with my American friends. Before you were elected, my friends who said that they were ashamed of being Americans, after you were elected said that they were proud to be Americans. This is a very sudden and big change. What do you think the reason is for this change?

OBAMA: You know, the United States friendship with Turkey doesn't depend on their EU membership. So even if Turkey continued not to be a member of the EU, the United States in our bilateral relations and in our relations as a NATO ally can really strengthen progress. And I had long discussions with the President and the Prime Minister about a range of areas where we can improve relations, including business and commerce and trade.

We probably can increase trade between our two countries significantly, but we haven't really focused on it. Traditionally the focus in Turkish-American relations has been around the military and I think for us to broaden that relationship and those exchanges could be very important.

You know, in terms of my election, I think that what people felt good about was it affirmed the sense that America is still a land of opportunity. I was not born into wealth. I wasn't born into fame. I come from a racial minority. My name is very unusual for the United States. And so I think people saw my election as proof, as testimony, that although we are imperfect, our society has continued to improve; that racial discrimination has been reduced; that educational opportunity for all people is something that is still available. And I also think that people were encouraged that somebody like me who has a background of living overseas, who has Muslims in his family -- you know, that I might be able to help to build bridges with other parts of the world.

You know, the American people are a very hopeful people. We're an optimistic people by nature. We believe that anything is possible if we put our minds to it. And that is one of the qualities of America that I think the world appreciates. You know, sometimes people may think that we are -- we aren't realistic enough about how the world works and we think that we can just remake the world without regard to history, because we're still a relatively new nation. Compared to Turkey and how old this civilization is, America is still very new.

And so it's true that I think we believe that things can happen very fast and that transformations in politics or in economics or in science and technology can make our lives better overnight. So sometimes we need more patience. But I also think the world needs to have a sense -- (drop in audio feed). That's a good thing and that we don't have to always be stuck with old arguments. I mean, one thing that is interesting about Europe as I travel around is, you know, you hear disputes between countries that date back to a hundred years, a thousand years -- people are still made about things that happened a very long time ago.

And so one thing America may have to offer is an insistence on looking forward and not always looking backwards.

OK, I only have time for one more question. I'll give it to this gentleman right here.

Oh, wait, wait, wait, wait -- I've got to get my earplug.

QUESTION: I thank you for the opportunity to ask you a question. Right now I am in the Turkish language and literature faculty of this university. How do you assess the Prime Minister's attitude in Davos? Had you been in the same situation, would you have reacted the same way?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think very highly of your Prime Minister. I've had a chance now to talk with him first in London. I had spoken to him on the phone previously, but we had the opportunity to meet in London during the G-20, and then we've been obviously having a number of visits while I've been here in Turkey.

And so I think that he is a good man who is very interested in promoting peace in the region and takes great pride I believe in trying to help work through the issues between Israel and its neighbors. And Turkey has a long history of being an ally and a friend of both Israel and its neighbors. And so it can occupy a unique position in trying to resolve some of these differences.

I wasn't at Davos so I don't want to offer an opinion about how he responded and what prompted his reaction. I will say this -- that I believe that peace in the Middle East is possible. I think it will be based on two states, side by side: a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. I think in order to achieve that, both sides are going to have to make compromises.

I think we have a sense of what those compromises should be and will be. Now what we need is political will and courage on the part of leadership. And it is not the United States' role or Turkey's role to tell people what they have to do, but we can be good friends in encouraging them to move the dialogue forward.

I have to believe that the mothers of Palestinians and the mothers of Israelis hope the same thing for their children. They want them not to be vulnerable to violence. They don't want, when their child gets on a bus, to worry that that bus might explode. They don't want their child to have to suffer indignities because of who they are. And so sometimes I think that if you just put the mothers in charge for a while, that things would get resolved. And it's that spirit of thinking about the future and not the past that I just talked about earlier that I think could help advance the peace process, because if you look at the situation there, over time I don't believe it's sustainable.

It's not sustainable for Israel's security because as populations grow around them, if there is more and more antagonism towards Israel, over time that will make Israel less secure.

It's not sustainable for the Palestinians because increasingly their economies are unable to produce the jobs and the goods and the income for people's basic quality of life.

So we know that path is a dead end, and we've got to move in a new direction. But it's going to be hard. A lot of mistrust has been built up, a lot of anger, a lot of hatred. And unwinding that hatred requires patience. But it has been done. You know, think about -- my Special Envoy to the Middle East is a gentleman named George Mitchell, who was a senator in the United States and then became the Special Envoy for the United States in Northern Ireland. And the Protestants and the Catholics in Northern Ireland had been fighting for hundreds of years, and as recently as 20 years ago or 30 years ago, the antagonism, the hatred, was a fierce as any sectarian battle in the world.

And yet because of persistent, courageous efforts by leaders, a peace accord was arrived at. A government that uses the democratic process was formed. And I had at the White House just a few weeks ago the leader of the Protestants, the leaders of Catholics in the same room, the separatists and the unionists in the same room, as part of a single system. And so that tells me that anything is possible if we're willing to strive for it.

But it will depend on young people like you being open to new ideas and new possibilities. And it will require young people like you never to stereotype or assume the worst about other people.

In the Muslim world, this notion that somehow everything is the fault of the Israelis lacks balance -- because there's two sides to every question. That doesn't mean that sometimes one side has done something wrong and should not be condemned. But it does mean there's always two sides to an issue.

I say the same thing to my Jewish friends, which is you have to see the perspective of the Palestinians. Learning to stand in somebody else's shoes to see through their eyes, that's how peace begins. And it's up to you to make that happen.

All right. Thank you very much, everybody. I enjoyed it. (Applause.)

Turkey, We Need You: Obama's Ankara Speech

Related Post: Video of President Obama's Town Hall Meeting in Turkey
Related Post: Video of President Obama's Speech in Ankara

obama-turkey2So, after his high-profile participation in the G-20 and NATO summits, after the set-piece excitement of his speech to French and German, President Obama spoke in Turkey yesterday. And, while most of the US media missed the story, his address was just as significant as his statements on the global economy and intervention in Pakistan-Afghanistan.


Both the New York Times and Washington Post are still so caught up with the broad notion of Obama's "engagement" with the Islamic world that they missed the depth in Obama's approach to the Turkish Government and people. This was a talk which recognised that Ankara has a central place in both short-term and longer-term American initiatives and, doing so, set aside other general issues that could trouble the US-Turkish relationship.

From his opening sentences, Obama elevated Turkey's importance:
I have been to the G-20 Summit in London, the NATO Summit in Strasbourg and Kehl, and the European Union 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. Turkey is a critical ally.

Of course, Obama is going to offer very nice words to flatter his audience, but that inclusion of "critical" goes beyond the requirements of rhetoric.

Turkish readers can help interpret the symbolic significance of Obama's lengthy reference to Kemal Ataturk, but I was struck by his concluding phrase: "His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong and secular democracy." The President has swept aside the chatter, which has been prevalent in the US and Europe, about the threat of "Islamism" in Turkey's political system. (And I suspect he had also swept more immediate doubts about the legitimacy of "democracy" in the rulling AKP's recent electoral success, which has been challenged by opposition parties.)

Why the extended references to "Turkey’s democracy [as] your own achievement [which] was not forced upon you by any outside power, nor did it come without struggle and sacrifice"? In part, it is to do with the Obama "engagement" with Islamic countries --- Turkey is going to be elevated as the model for others to emulate.

The initial plans of the Obama Administration were for the President to make his appeal to the Islamic world in Cairo, given Egypt's more immediate place in Middle Eastern issues and the "Arab" dimension. Those had to be set aside, however, because of the complications of the Gaza crisis and of some far-from-trivial questions about the recent Egyptian record of democracy. So step up, Ankara: "Because of the strength of our alliance and the endurance of our friendship, both America and Turkey are stronger, and the world is more secure."

This general exaltation, however, has immediate purposes, as Obama's next sentences made clear:
Our two democracies are confronted by an unprecedented set of challenges. 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.


Turkey is in the right place at the right time. In the midst of economic crisis, Washington sees the country as one with great potential for growth. That is a growth that could other US allies out of the recessionary doldrums.

And that in turn eliminates any doubts about the US position on Turkey in European Union, as Obama set out in several paragraphs:
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.

No messing about here. Obama swept aside "human rights" objections to Turkey's EU membership, citing changes in its legal system and penal codes and its granting of minority rights to Kurds.


More good news for Turkey. It finds itself as a "lynchpin", just as in the 1950s, for American ambitions in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

One key issue, of course, is that of Israeli relations with Arab States. Here Obama did hide the full US agenda. He referred at length to Turkey's role in an Israeli-Palestinian settlement but omitted a more immediate item: an Israeli agreement with Syria.

There was a political sensitivity at work here. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's anger with Tel Aviv over the Gaza War was because it interrupted, indeed threatened to demolish, Ankara's brokering of direct Israeli-Syrian talks. Obama, both for the sake of his hosts and sensitivities in Israel, thus did not say "Syria", but the signal was clear. Washington is hoping for a resumption of the discussions and would be pleased for Turkey to take the diplomatic credit.

Obama, however, was looking beyond Israel and the Arab world with his reference to Turkey's regional importance. For Washington, Ankara now has a part to play in keeping Iran "sensible". The President was a bit ham-fisted with his emphasis on the nuclear issue, rather than the political significance of Iranian policy in the region, but Turkish leaders undoubtedly picked up on the wider message. Ankara can be a major player, as Obama pursues "engagement", working with Syria to ease Tehran into an acceptable place in discussions on the Middle East.


Obama didn't shy away from headline issues that could have jeopardised this vision of US-Turkish co-operation. He did refer to Armenia and Cyprus, looking in each case to "reckoning with the past" and "just and lasting settlements".

That finessing of sensitive issues led Obama to Iraq, where he made clear that Washington would recognise Turkey's position over the threat from the Kurdish separatists of the PKK:
Make no mistake, though: Iraq, 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.

Ahh, the Obama magic. By re-framing Turkey's relationship with the Bushian legacy of Iraq in this way, the President could once again elevate Ankara's political importance in America's new fights:
We share the common goal of denying al Qaeda a safe-haven in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Yes, Turkey, Uncle Sam and President Barack need you.

Video and Transcript: Obama Speech in Turkey

Related Post: Video of President Obama's Town Hall Meeting in Turkey
Latest Post: Reading the Obama Ankara Speech - Turkey, We Need You
Related Post: Open Thread for Comments - Obama's Ankara Speech

C-SPAN has posted  the full video of President Obama's speech today in Ankara: "Turkey and the United States must stand together and work together to overcome the challenges of our time." Here is an extract from CNN:

OBAMA: Mr. Speaker, Madam Deputy Speaker, distinguished members, I am honored to speak in this chamber, and I am committed to renewing the alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people.

This is my first trip overseas as President of the United States. I have been to the G-20 Summit in London, the NATO Summit in Strasbourg and Kehl, and the European Union 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. 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.

This morning I had the privilege of visiting the tomb of the great founder of your Republic. I was deeply impressed by this beautiful memorial to a man who did so much to shape the course of history. But it is also clear that the greatest monument to Ataturk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble. His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong and secular democracy, and that is the work that this assembly carries on today.

This future was not easily assured. At the end of World War I, Turkey could have succumbed to the foreign powers that were trying to claim its territory, or sought to restore an ancient empire. But Turkey chose a different future. You freed yourself from foreign control. And you founded a Republic that commands the respect of the United States and the wider world.

There is a simple truth to this story: Turkey’s democracy is your own achievement. It was not forced upon you by any outside power, nor did it come without struggle and sacrifice. Like any democracy, Turkey draws strength from both the successes of the past, and from the efforts of each generation of Turks that makes new progress for your people.

My country’s democracy has its own story. The general who led America in revolution and governed as our first President was George Washington. Like you, we built a grand monument to honor our founding father – a towering obelisk that stands in the heart of the capital city that bears Washington’s name.

It took decades to build. There were frequent delays. Over time, more and more people contributed to help make this monument the inspiring structure that still stands tall today. Among those who came to our aid were friends from all across the world, who offered their own tributes to Washington and the country he helped to found.

One of those tributes came from Istanbul. Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid sent a marble plaque that helped to build the Washington Monument. Inscribed in the plaque was a poem that began with a few simple words, and I quote: “So as to strengthen the friendship between the two countries.” Over 150 years have passed since those words were carved into marble. Our nations have changed in many ways. But our friendship is strong, and our alliance endures.

It is a friendship that flourished in the years after World War II, when President Truman committed our nation to the defense of Turkey’s freedom and sovereignty, and Turkey committed itself to the NATO alliance. Turkish troops have served by our side from Korea to Kosovo to Kabul. Together, we withstood the great test of the Cold War. Trade between our nations has steadily advanced. So has cooperation in science and research.

The ties among our people have deepened as well, and more and more Americans of Turkish origin live and work and succeed within our borders. As a basketball fan, I’ve even noticed that Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur have got some pretty good game.

The United States and Turkey have not always agreed on every issue. That is to be expected – no two nations do. But we have stood together through many challenges over the last sixty years. And because of the strength of our alliance and the endurance of our friendship, both America and Turkey are stronger, and the world is more secure.

Now, our two democracies are confronted by an unprecedented set of challenges. 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.

These are the great tests of our young century. And the choices that we make in the coming years will determine whether the future will be shaped by fear or by freedom; by poverty or by prosperity; by strife or by a just, secure and lasting peace.

This much is certain: no one nation can confront these challenges alone, and all nations have a stake in overcoming them. That is why we must listen to one another, and seek common ground. That is why we must build on our mutual interests, and rise above our differences. We are stronger when we act together. That is the message that I have carried with me throughout this trip to Europe. That will be the approach of the United States of America going forward.

Already, America and Turkey are working with the G-20 on an unprecedented response to an unprecedented economic crisis. This past week, we came together to ensure that the world’s largest economies take strong and coordinated action to stimulate growth and restore the flow of credit; to reject the pressure of protectionism, and to extend a hand to developing countries and the people hit hardest by this downturn; and to dramatically reform our regulatory system so that the world never faces a crisis like this again.

As we go forward, the United States and Turkey can pursue many opportunities to serve prosperity for our people, particularly when it comes to energy. To expand markets and create jobs, we can increase trade and investment between our countries. To develop new sources of energy and combat climate change, we should build on our Clean Technology Fund to leverage efficiency and renewable energy investments in Turkey. And to power markets in Turkey and Europe, the United States will continue to support your central role as an East-West corridor for oil and natural gas.

This economic cooperation only reinforces the common security that Europe and the United States share with Turkey as a NATO ally, and the common values that we share as democracies. 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 Bosphorous. Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together. Europe gains by diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith – it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe’s foundation once more.

Turkey has its own responsibilities. You have made important progress toward membership. But I also know that Turkey has pursued difficult political reforms not simply because it’s good for Europe, but because it is right for Turkey.

In the last several years, you have abolished state-security courts and expanded the right to counsel. You have reformed the penal code, and strengthened laws that govern the freedom of the press and assembly. You lifted bans on teaching and broadcasting Kurdish, and the world noted with respect the important signal sent through a new state Kurdish television station.

These achievements have created new laws that must be implemented, and a momentum that should be sustained. For democracies cannot be static – they must move forward. Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.

I say this as the President of a country that not too long ago made it hard for someone who looks like me to vote. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries. Every challenge that we face is more easily met if we tend to our own democratic foundation. This work is never over. That is why, in the United States, we recently ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed, and prohibited – without exception or equivocation – any use of torture.

Another issue that confronts all democracies as they move to the future is how we deal with the past. The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods. Facing the Washington monument that I spoke of is a memorial to Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed those who were enslaved even after Washington led our Revolution. And our country still struggles with the legacy of our past treatment of Native Americans.

Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. 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. While there has been a good deal of commentary about my views, this is really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.

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.

It speaks to Turkey’s leadership that you are poised to be the only country in the region to have normal and peaceful relations with all the South Caucusus nations. And to advance that peace, you can play a constructive role in helping to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has continued for far too long.

Advancing peace also includes the dispute that persists in the eastern Mediterranean. Here, there is cause for hope. The two Cypriot leaders have an opportunity through their commitment to negotiations under the United Nations Good Offices Mission. The United States is willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work toward a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus into a bizonal and bicommunal federation.

These efforts speak to one part of the critical region that surrounds Turkey. And when we consider the challenges before us, on issue after issue, we share common goals.

In the Middle East, we share the goal of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. Let me be clear: 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.

We know that the road ahead will be difficult. Both Israelis and Palestinians must take the steps that are necessary to build confidence. Both must live up to the commitments they have made. Both must overcome longstanding passions and the politics of the moment to make progress toward a secure and lasting peace.

The United States and Turkey can help the Palestinians and Israelis make this journey. Like the United States, Turkey has been a friend and partner in Israel’s quest for security. And like the United States, you seek a future of opportunity and statehood for the Palestinians. Now, we must not give into pessimism and mistrust. We must pursue every opportunity for progress, as you have done by supporting negotiations between Syria and Israel. We must extend a hand to those Palestinians who are in need, while helping them strengthen institutions. And we must reject the use of terror, and recognize that Israel’s security concerns are legitimate.

The peace of the region will also be advanced if Iran forgoes any nuclear weapons ambitions. As I made clear yesterday in Prague, no one is served by the spread of nuclear weapons. This part of the world has known enough violence. It has known enough hatred. It does not need a race for ever-more powerful tools of destruction.

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. We want Iran to play its rightful role in the community of nations, with the economic and political integration that brings prosperity and security. Now, Iran’s leaders must choose whether they will try to build a weapon or build a better future for their people.

Both Turkey and the United States support a secure and united Iraq that does not serve as a safe-haven for terrorists. I know there were differences about whether to go to war. There were differences within my own country as well. But now we must come together as we end this war responsibly, because the future of Iraq is inseparable from the future of the broader region. 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.

Make no mistake, though: Iraq, 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.

Finally, 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.

Turkey has been a true partner. Your troops were among the first in the International Security Assistance Force. You have sacrificed much in this endeavor. Now, we must achieve our goals together. I appreciate that you have offered to help us train and support Afghan Security Forces, and expand opportunity across the region. Together, we can rise to meet this challenge like we have so many before.

I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds us has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject.

But I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim work 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. We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding, and seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. And we will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world for the better – including my own country. 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.

Above all, we will demonstrate through actions our commitment to a better future. We want to help more children get the education that they need to succeed. We want to promote health care in places where people are vulnerable. We want to expand the trade and investment that can bring prosperity for all people. In the months ahead, I will present specific programs to advance these goals. Our focus will be on what we can do, in partnership with people across the Muslim world, to advance our common hopes, and our common dreams. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship.

There is an old Turkish proverb: “You cannot put out fire with flames.”

America knows this. Turkey knows this. There are some who must be met with force. But force alone cannot solve our problems, and it is no alternative to extremism. The future must belong to those who create, not those who destroy. That is the future we must work for, and we must work for it together.

I know there are those who like to debate Turkey’s future. They see your country at the crossroads of continents, and touched by the currents of history. They know that this has been a place where civilizations meet, and different peoples mingle. And they wonder whether you will be pulled in one direction or another.

Here is what they don’t understand: Turkey’s greatness lies in your ability to be at the center of things. This is not where East and West divide – it is where they come together. In the beauty of your culture. In the richness of your history. In the strength of your democracy. In your hopes for tomorrow.

I am honored to stand here with you – to look forward to the future that we must reach for together – and to reaffirm America’s commitment to our strong and enduring friendship. Thank you.