Obama arrives in Ankara, supports Turkey's EU bid

US President Barack Obama has arrived in Turkey in the last leg of his European trip, where he is expected to "reaffirm US support of Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union", a US official said.


AFP - US President Barack Obama meets Turkish leaders Monday in a bid to revitalise ties with a key US ally and firmly anchor this mainly Muslim nation with the West.

Obama's two-day visit here, which will also see him travel to Istanbul, is the final leg of his maiden trip to Europe and his first visit to a mainly Muslim country since becoming president in January.

In Ankara, Obama will hold talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as delivering an address at the parliament.

"The President's address will reaffirm his belief that Turkey is a critical ally, and an important part of Europe," a senior US official said on condition of anonymity.

"The President wanted to visit Turkey because he believes it's important that we take steps to renew the US-Turkey relationship, which has drifted in recent years," he added.

Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, has been a close ally of the United States in a strategic region between Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East, bordering troubled countries such as Georgia, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Bilateral ties were strained under former US president George W. Bush when Turkey refused to allow US troops to use its territory in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Recent years have also seen Ankara follow policies that differ from Washington on key issues such as Iran and its suspect nuclear programme, the radical Palestinian movement Hamas in Gaza, and Sudan, giving rise to fears that Ankara is drifting away from the West.

Obama will "reaffirm US support of Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union", the US official said.

Before flying into Turkey, Obama attended a European Union summit in Prague where he said membership of the 27-nation bloc would firmly wrap Turkey into the Western fold.

His remarks drew the ire of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who reasserted his opposition to Ankara's EU membership, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who insisted that the issue remains an open question.

The US official said the war on terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, relations with Iran, and the Middle East peace process would also be on the agenda of the talks in Ankara.

The US President will later travel to Istanbul to make a brief appearance at an international forum aimed at bridging divisions between the Islamic world and the West.

On Tuesday, he will meet religious leaders, tour historical sites and hold a round-table meeting with university students before leaving Turkey.

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