US President Barack Obama has used his visit to Turkey to emphasise that the US is not, and will never be, involved in a 'war on Islam' and that he wants cooperation not conflict between civilisations.
The message was clearly aimed at a wider Muslim audience and acknowledged failings in past US policy and practice as well as arguing for a common global vision based on freedom, justice and peace.
Obama emphasized his support for Turkey’s bid for membership in the European Union - something that others, including the present Pope, have questioned.
In response to questions about whether there was a message being sent through the visit, he stated emphatically that there was indeed, namely that "Turkey is a critical ally, vital in issues ranging from energy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
However, civic activists and opposition groups in Turkey say that the country's record on democracy and human rights still needs serious scrutiny and substantial change.
Addressing Turkey’s culture and heritage, the US president spoke to the majority-Muslim population in a speech to the Turkish Grand National Assembly. He declared:
I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. (Applause.) In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.
I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world - including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country - I know, because I am one of them. (Applause.)
Above all, above all we will demonstrate through actions our commitment to a better future. I want to help more children get the education that they need to succeed. We want to promote health care in places where people are vulnerable. We want to expand the trade and investment that can bring prosperity for all people. In the months ahead, I will present specific programs to advance these goals. Our focus will be on what we can do, in partnership with people across the Muslim world, to advance our common hopes and our common dreams. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship to all people.
There's an old Turkish proverb: "You cannot put out fire with flames." America knows this. Turkey knows this. There's some who must be met by force, they will not compromise. But force alone cannot solve our problems, and it is no alternative to extremism. The future must belong to those who create, not those who destroy. That is the future we must work for, and we must work for it together.