ANKARA, (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held up Turkey on Saturday as proof that democracy and Islam can coexist and said Barack Obama would visit the NATO state in his first trip as president to a Muslim country.
The choice of Turkey — a secular Muslim democracy that aspires to join the European Union — reflects the value Washington places on links with Ankara as it tries to forge a better relationship with the Islamic world.
“Democracy and modernity and Islam can all coexist,” Clinton said in Ankara, appearing on a popular Turkish television chat show, Hadi Gel Bizimle (Come and Join Us).
“I really consider the role of Turkey as a global leader very important,” she told her four female interviewers.
After eight years of former President George W. Bush, who invaded two Muslim countries and gave strong support to Israel, Obama has pledged a “new way forward” with the Muslim world. There has been speculation he might use Turkey as a platform for a widely expected major policy speech on ties betwen the U.S. and Islamic world. “He will be visiting Turkey within the next month or so. The exact date will be announced shortly. We are coordinating with the Turkish government to find a date that works,” Clinton told a news conference along with Foreign Minister Ali Babacan.
Clinton, who also met Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, said her trip had focused on Ankara’s role in Middle East peacemaking, particularly in mediating between Israel and Syria.
“The importance of this track, the peace effort, cannot be overstated. Turkey has played a very important role.”
Also discussed were NATO’s role in Afghanistan, where Turkey has 800 troops, as well as intelligence-sharing in the fight against Kurdish rebels, and the situation in Iraq, she said.
Turkey, which refused to U.S. troops deploy on its territory for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, has signalled it would allow them to use its bases and ports to withdraw, after Obama pledged to pull out combat forces by 2010. There has been a wave of anti-Americanism in Turkey, particularly following the Iraq war, and many of those tensions linger. But Clinton said Turkey and the United States stood “shoulder to shoulder” in tackling global isues.
“The relationship between our two countries is one of alliance, partnership and friendship,” she said.