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Obama tenders olive-branch to Muslim world
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09:12, April 08, 2009

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When Barack Obama spoke loud "the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam," the new U.S. president was impressing the audience not only in the Turkish parliament, but perhaps the whole Islamic world with his reaching-out Muslim diplomacy by a striking pledge.

"Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical," Obama vowed in a speech at Turkey's Grand National Assembly, the centerpiece of his first visit to a Muslim country since he took office.

As the speech was widely live broadcast on TV channels, Obama's olive-branch could reach most Muslims.

The United States has left a hostile image in the Muslim world due to the U.S.-led invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq, driven by Bush's anti-terrorism policy after the Nov. 11 terror in 2001.

Obama, who is determined to improve the unkind U.S. image, began to push his Muslim diplomacy since he took office in January.

Turkey, a U.S. close ally but a predominantly Muslim country, is an ideal place for Obama to send his message of reaching out to the Muslim world.

He has shown the U.S. seriousness to improve ties with the Muslim world, at least in his speech. By firstly acknowledging the U.S.-Muslim tension over the past few years, he not only promised to be a good listener, but furthermore pledged to address the tension by not focusing on fighting terrorism and putting aside the fundamental faith differences.

"I know that the trust that binds us has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced," he said.

"But I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to al-Qaida."

"We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding, and seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree," he added.

Revealing his own Muslim heritage, he did not hesitate in showing his deep respect to Islam, saying the Islamic faith "has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world," including the United States. "Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country - I know, because I am one of them."

Obama's attendance of the UN-backed Alliance of Civilization forum in Istanbul, initiated by Spain and Turkey to address tension across cultural divides between the Western and Islamic worlds, also bore a symbolic meaning of having dialogues with the Islamic world.

One step further, Obama has pledged to take actions to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to a better future in partnership with the Muslim world, committed to specific programs in the following months to help children's education and health care in needed places and to increased trade and investment with Muslim countries.

Obama's inclusion of Turkey as the last leg of his maiden European trip after taking office, which also has stops in London for the G20 summit, the German-French border for the NATO summit and Prague, looks natural as Turkey is both G20 and NATO members, but at the same time wisely-designed for his Muslim diplomacy, because Turkey serves as a perfect springboard for such diplomacy.

Bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran, Turkey carries weight in soothing these troubled countries in the U.S. eyes, and at large the Middle East region, home to most Muslim countries.

After the U.S. troops' withdrawal from Iraq by August 2010, ordered by Obama, Turkey plays a vital role in maintaining stability in the war-torn country now suffering from serious sectarian conflicts.

In the speech, Obama has called on Turkey to "come together" to end the Iraqi war responsibly, calling for Turkey's joint efforts for Iraq's domestic reconciliation.

Turkey is a potential mediator between Tehran and Washington. President Abdullah Gul's visit to Iran on March 10 has tried to ease tension between the two adversaries, which comes right after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Turkey. Clinton said in Ankara that the U.S would ask Turkey to help push forward Obama's plan to engage Iran.

Ankara has supported indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria, as appreciated by Obama, who added that Turkey, also seeking a statehood for the Palestinians, could jointly help the Palestinians and Israelis realize peace based on a two-state solution.

A country that straddles two continents, Asia and Europe, and the only major Muslim nation in the Western alliance, Turkey is viewed as a bridge between the East and West, and the Islamic world and the Western world, which brings together both cultures.

The Alliance of Civilization forum is an example. Obama, together with presidents of Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Slovenia, prime ministers of Denmark and Spain and representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, have attended the two-day forum in Istanbul, the second of its kind.

But beforehand, Obama has to mend the ties with the sometimes thorny ally, which has been strained when Turkey refused in March 2003 to allow the U.S. troops to launch attack on Turkish soil against Iraq.

During the visit, Obama has done this by assuring the Turkish leaders U.S. appreciation of the friendship with its close Muslim ally, need of its help and desire to develop cooperation in various areas.


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