ANKARA, Turkey – For one of his first foreign visits, President Barack Obama will call on NATO ally Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country viewed as critical to aiding the U.S. pullout from Iraq, turning around the Afghanistan war and blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The invasion of Iraq has strained the long friendship between the U.S. and Turkey, a Western-style democracy that straddles Europe and the Middle East and has an Islamic-oriented government. Obama’s visit, expected at the end of a European trip in early April, would mark an improvement in ties.
“We share a commitment to democracy, a secular constitution, respect for religious freedom and belief and in a free market and a sense of global responsibility,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday in announcing Obama’s plans after meeting with Turkish leaders in the capital.
The visit is “a reflection of the value we place on our friendship with Turkey,” the chief American diplomat said on the last stop of her weeklong trip to five countries.
Turkey had advised against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and refused to permit U.S. ground forces to launch elements of the attack from Turkish soil.
In a more cordial atmosphere now, Washington and Ankara are consulting on ways Turkey can help facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Turkey has said it is ready to serve as an exit route for the Americans. The U.S. air base at Incirlik, Turkey, has been used for transfer of U.S. troops and equipment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Neither Clinton nor the White House would confirm a date for Obama’s visit. But it probably will follow his trip to Europe from March 31 to April 5 that includes a NATO summit and meetings with European Union leaders; Turkey is seeking EU membership. Obama’s only trip since taking office Jan. 20 has been a day visit to Canada.