Obama leaves Turkey at end of European trip

April 7, 2009 12:00 am

, ISTANBUL, April 7 – President Barack Obama left Turkey on Tuesday, after capping his debut overseas tour with an appeal to the Islamic world, as aides claimed huge progress towards his goal of restoring the US image abroad.

Obama took off in Air Force One from Istanbul, after a two-day stay in Turkey preceded by visits to the London for the G20 economic summit, France and Germany for the NATO summit and the Czech Republic.

Once back in the United States, the US president will return to the daunting daily crisis management of leading the struggle against the most punishing financial meltdown in generations.

"We feel this was an enormously productive trip," said Obama’s top political aide David Axelrod, before the president met Turkish students, his final event of a trip mixing summits, bilateral talks and public diplomacy.

"We think we got some tangible progress out of these meetings. Certainly out of the G20 we have a framework, a global framework for moving forward in dealing with this economic crisis." Axelrod said.

"Out of NATO we got strong consensus and support for the President’s new strategy in terms of Afghanistan, along with significant pledges of support and an agreement to move forward.

"And of course, here in Turkey, we’ve begun to repair relationships that have been frayed with a key strategic ally."

Critics will argue that despite presenting a new strategy for the Afghan war, Obama failed to get more than 5,000 troop deployments from NATO allies, some of which will be short-term in nature.

Though the G20 summit did mandate a new multi-billion dollar spending plan and crackdown on tax havens and excess corporate pay, it did not secure the kind of coordinated global stimulus plan for which some had hoped.

Obama aides also said the fast-paced trip had started to fulfill Obama’s campaign pledge of reinvigorating America’s international alliances, which were left ragged by the foreign policy rows with allies of the Bush administration.

Obama had worked to "mend our frayed alliances, and begin again a dialogue with our allies and discussions with our adversaries, to try to move America’s agenda forward, to make our country safer, to set the conditions for a better future," said Axelrod.

"We feel that we’ve taken a great step forward on this trip."

Earlier, Obama visited a landmark mosque in Istanbul, following strong messages of US reconciliation with the Islamic world on his maiden trip to a mainly Muslim country as president.

Taking off his shoes as tradition requires, Obama stepped into the 17th-century Sultanahmet Mosque in the ancient heart of Istanbul, accompanied by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Two Muslim preachers guided Obama inside the grandiose edifice — better known as the Blue Mosque for its blue tileworks — and the president smiled when they showed him a dome scripture mentioning the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein, Obama’s middle name, Anatolia news agency reported.

In a major speech at the Turkish parliament in Ankara Monday, Obama declared that the United States "is not and never will be at war with Islam ."

He called Turkey a "critical ally," earning himself much praise in a country where his precedessor left the US image in tatters.

"Obama conquers hearts," the popular Vatan newspaper trumpeted on its front page, while the liberal Taraf said the speech marked the end of "the bellicose spirit of September 11."

Following up on his appeal for dialogue and inter-faith understanding, Obama met Tuesday with Muslim, Christian and Jewish spiritual leaders based in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and the meeting point of Europe and Asia.

In the "town-hall" style encounter with students, in an ancient stone building, the president called on Muslims to show balance towards US-ally Israel.

"In the Muslim world, the notion that somehow everything is the fault of the Israelis lacks balance because there are two sides to every question," Obama said at a meeting with university students during a visit to Turkey.

A Turkish security official meanwhile said Tuesday a man had been detained in Istanbul last week on suspicion he of plotting to kill Obama. But police established the man was mentally disturbed and released him.



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