Visiting U.S. President Barack Obama repeated on Monday the U.S. firm support to Turkey's membership bid to joint the European Union.
"Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union," Obama pledged in a speech at the Turkish parliament.
He said Turkey has been a resolute ally and a responsible partner in transatlantic and European institutions, adding Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more.
On Sunday in Prague at a U.S.-EU summit, Obama threw his weight behind Turkey's bid for EU membership, urging EU leaders to send a good signal to the Muslim world. He said it would be a good sign of the efforts for closer ties between the West and the Muslim world if Turkey could join the EU.
Turkey has long been seeking to join the EU, but its membership bid has been held up by opposition from France, Austria and other EU countries, which demand Ankara do more on some domestic and external issues, including human rights and reforms.
Noting that Turkey should bear responsibilities, Obama said the country has made important progress towards the membership, including political reforms, reform of the penal code, strengthening of laws on press freedom, and the lift of bans on teaching and broadcasting Kurdish.
The United States and Turkey, both NATO members, have been close allies for decades. However, the relationship was strained when Turkey refused U.S. troops' invasion into Iraq through its territories in March 2003. The Iraqi war was widely opposed in Turkey.
In his speech, Obama affirmed that U.S.-Turkey ties have undergone difficulties in the past few years. "I know that the trust that binds us has been strained," he said. But he played down the strain by revealing that he is visiting Turkey to send the U.S. message of recognizing Turkey's significance.
"Turkey is a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together" and work together "to overcome the challenges of our time," he said.
Mentioning the early years of U.S.-Turkey friendship after the World War II, Obama said Turkey has been a "true partner," hailing the Muslim ally's cooperation in promoting the Middle East peace process, and help in joining, training and supporting the Afghan security forces.
Obama arrived in Ankara on Sunday evening for his first state visit to a Muslim nation. His visit to Turkey, the last stop of his first European trip early in his term, was seen as a move to mend the once-cooled ties and seek its only Muslim ally's help with the Iraqi and Afghan issues, and importantly, with his reaching-out to the Muslim world.