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Obama wraps up European tour in Istanbul

Latest update : 2009-04-07

US President Barack Obama finishes his gruelling eight-day European tour in Istanbul, Turkey, after attending the G20 summit in London, which was followed by a NATO gathering co-hosted by Germany and France.

AFP - US President Barack Obama on Tuesday wraps up an exhausting eight-day trip to Europe after setting lofty new US foreign policy aspirations and declaring the US will never be at war with Islam.

Obama will tour historic sites in Istanbul and hold a roundtable with students, then contemplate a return home to swap the adrenaline rush of high-stakes summits for the grind of rescuing the crippled US economy.

The president flew into Istanbul late Monday night, after spending the day in the Turkish capital Ankara, repairing ties with a vital US strategic ally and sending a clarion call of reconciliation to the Muslim world.

From the well of the Turkish parliament, Obama warned "you cannot put out fire with flames," arguing that brute force alone could not thwart extremism as he sent a flurry of coded messages throughout the Middle East.

"The United States is not and never will be at war with Islam," Obama said, in a speech occasionally punctuated by applause.

"We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding... We will be respectful, even when we do not agree," said Obama, promising to unveil specific programmes on trade, education and health care in the Muslim world."

He also drew on his own biography as the son of a believer who lived in Indonesia as a youngster.

"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."

Obama also sent a fresh olive branch to Iran, backed dialogue between Israel and Syria and promised a new initiative within months to improve healthcare, education, and trade with the Islamic world.

He also attempted to ease bilateral relations with Turkey that were bruised by former president George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, and portrayed his hosts as a pivotal player in the troubled region.

Obama renewed his support for Turkey's bid to join the European Union as he met with the country's leaders and addressed parliament in his first trip to a mainly Muslim nation since taking office in January.

He urged Turkey and Armenia to move forward in their tentative dialogue to normalise ties and signalled he would not interfere in their dispute over whether the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire was "genocide".

Obama also renewed US support for a two-state solution in the Middle East.

"That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the roadmap and at Annapolis. And that is a goal that I will actively pursue as president," he said.

The remarks came after Israel's new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said last week the 2007 Annapolis document did not bind Israel though he did accept the roadmap as the basis for progress.

On Tuesday, Obama will see the ornate dome of Hagia Sofia, the former church of the Divine Wisdom, which is now a museum, and the ancient Blue Mosque, one of the landmarks of the Istanbul skyline.

He is also set to hold a roundtable with students, in his latest attempt to reach out to future generations in the Muslim world, before leaving Turkey later in the day.

Obama started his tour in Britain with the Group of 20 summit of developed and developing nations, which established a package of measures to battle the worst global financial crisis in decades.

He then moved onto Strasbourg, to sell his new war plan for Afghanistan, and secured the offer of 5,000 extra troop deployments from US allies at the Afghan summit.

On Sunday, in Prague, the US president laid out an ambitious new plan to slash global stocks of nuclear weapons, combat proliferation and halt nuclear tests worldwide.

Earlier Monday, Obama paid homage at the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

He wrote in the official memorial book: "Peace at home, peace in the world," quoting one of Ataturk's most popular sayings.

Date created : 2009-04-07