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Europe
Clinton hails US-Turkey ties
President Obama to visit Turkey after US secretary of state meets government leaders.
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2009 14:31 GMT

Clinton has met European and Middle Eastern leaders over the past weeks to improve relations [AFP]

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has said that Turkey and the United States share common goals, after meeting government leaders in Ankara.

Clinton said after the talks on Saturday that Barack Obama, the US president, will visit Turkey next month, although she did not give a date.

"We covered a broad agenda today ... in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, we discussed our co-operation to defeat our common enemy, the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party]; to update Nato's capabilities to meet 21st-century challenges; and we talked about the urgent need to work with the international community towards a two-state solution and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East," Clinton said during a news conference.

Clinton met President Abdullah Gul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, and Ali Babacan, the foreign minister. She also visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, during her trip to the capital.

"I think Turkey will be an important, and can be an important, actor in implementing both security and peace policies in the region"

Ilter Turan, professor at Bilgi Istanbul University

The US government is committed to Turkey joining the European Union and talks on finding a peace deal for Turkey and Greece over the divided island of Cyprus, she said.

"I reiterate the Obama administration's support for Turkey's membership of the European Union. The United States believes it will strengthen Turkey, Europe and our transatlantic partnership."

The Obama administration also supports UN-sponsored talks "to achieve a settlement of the Cyprus conflict, based on reunification of the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation".

The US secretary of state's visit to Turkey is part of an effort by the Obama administration to enhance ties between Washington and Ankara, a senior US official travelling with Clinton said.

"There is a chance to put us on a better footing in our relationship with Turkey," the official said.

Clinton arrived in Turkey from Geneva, Switzerland, where she met Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, on Friday.

Turkey, a Nato member and a Muslim-majority nation, has been a site for anti-Americanism following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Middle East peace

Ankara's role in the Middle East peace process was said to have been at the top of Clinton's agenda during her one-day visit.

Clinton laid a wreath at Ataturk's mausoleum in Ankara [AFP]
The US, it is believed, wants Turkey to mediate indirect talks between Syria and Israel, who are still at odds over Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria in 1967.

Washington also wants Ankara to help convince its neighbours to allow their territory to be used as supply routes for US and Nato-forces battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.

But the Turkish government has opposition on its own soil from the PKK, a Kurdish organisation that has been fighting for autonomy from Ankara since 1978, a conflict that has cost thousands of lives. 

Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Istanbul, said that the agenda for the talks was extensive.

"This is a moment in history, certainly as the Turks would see it, where it seems like many roads, if not all roads to the resolution of the region's problems lead through Ankara," she said.

Regional experience

McNaught said that the Turkish government had been pro-active in dealing with Hamas and trying to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together in Middle Eastern peace talks.

She also said that Washington had asked Turkey to play a role in improving relations with Iran, and help with the situations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Georgia.

Ilter Turan, a professor at Bilgi Istanbul University, told Al Jazeera that Turkey's common past and religion with some of the countries of the region and an experience of dealing with populations of a similar nature could help.

"I think Turkey will be an important, and can be an important, actor in implementing both security and peace policies in the region," he said.

However, some people say that Turkey does not have the political will to increase their involvement in the myriad of areas desired by the US.

"They will face harsh opposition from the Islamist opposition, that they are killing their Muslim brothers, serving the Western interests," Kadri Gursel, a columnist with the Millyet newspaper, told Al Jazeera.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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