OBAMA IN TURKEY: U.S. NOT SELFISH AND CRASS
The Associated Press
6:18 AM EDT, April 7, 2009
Obama ends Turkish visit with student town hall
In a humble finish to his first foreign trip, President Barack Obama
said that despite its flaws and past mistakes, the United States is
poised for a "new chapter in American engagement" with Muslims and
the rest of the world.
Calling for a greater understanding among nations, Obama said
the United States needs to be more patient in its dealings with
the world. And he said the rest of the world needs a better sense
"that change is possible so we don’t have to always be stuck with
the same arguments."
Complete coverage of President Barack Obama Barack Obama in Europe,
Addressing college students in Turkey’s largest city, Obama rejected
the stereotype that Americans are selfish and crass. "I’m here to tell
you that’s not the country I know and not the country I love," the
president said. "America, like every other nation, has made mistakes
and has its flaws, but for more than two centuries it has strived"
to seek a more perfect union.
The students formed a tight circle around Obama, who slowly paced
a sky-blue rug while answering their questions. He promised to wrap
the session up before the Muslim call to prayer.
He repeated his pledge to rebuild relations between the United States
and the Muslim world.
"I am personally committed to a new chapter in American engagement,"
Obama said. "We can’t afford to talk past one another and focus only
on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us."
The questions were polite and rarely bracing, though one student
asked whether there was any real difference between his White House
and the Bush administration. Obama cautioned that while he had great
differences with Bush over issues such as Iraq and climate change,
it takes time to change a nation as big as the United States.
"Moving the ship of state is a slow process," he said.
The Turkish stop capped an eight-day European trip that senior adviser
David Axelrod called "enormously productive" — including an economic
crisis summit in London and a NATO conclave in France and Germany.
Axelrod said specific benefits might be a while in coming. "You plant,
you cultivate, you harvest," he told reporters. "Over time, the seeds
that were planted here are going to be very, very valuable."
Axelrod cited accords on revamping global financial rules, restarting
arms talks with Russia and sending more NATO troops to Afghanistan.
Picking up on his consultant’s theme later, Obama told the college
students he sees nothing wrong with setting his sights high on goals
such as mending relations with Iran and eliminating the world of
nuclear options — two cornerstone issues of his trip.
"Some people say that maybe I’m being too idealistic," Obama said. "But
if we don’t try, if we don’t reach high, we won’t make any progress."
Obama’s final day in Turkey also featured a meeting with religious
leaders and stops at top tourist sites in this city on the Bosporus
that spans Europe and Asia. Accompanied by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, he toured the Hagia Sophia museum and the Blue Mosque.
The museum — first a basilica, then a mosque, now a Byzantine
architectural wonder — dates to 537 and is a shrine to the art,
religion and culture of this city of 20 million once known as
Obama strolled slowly through the massive interior of the stone
basilica-turned-mosque-turned-museum, gazing at Christian-themed
frescos interspersed with giant suspended disks with Arabic
writing. With a guide and Erdogan, Obama smiled and nodded often,
keeping his hands clasped in front of him. The nearby Blue or Sultan
Ahmet Mosque is famed for its massive dome, minarets and thousands
of hand-painted blue tiles.
At the Blue Mosque, just across a square and manicured gardens
from Hagia Sophia, the president padded, shoeless like his entire
entourage in accordance with religious custom, across the carpeted
mosque interior. All around were intricate stained-glass windows and
a series of domes, thick columns and walls entirely covered in blue,
red and white tile mosaic.
Again, he appeared to speak little, as he was schooled in what he
was seeing by a guide. He spent about 40 minutes at both places.
At his Istanbul hotel, Obama met with Istanbul’s grand mufti and
its chief rabbi, as well as Turkey’s Armenian patriarch and Syrian
In many respects, Obama’s European trip was a continental listening
He told the G-20 summit in London that global cooperation is the key
to ending a crippling recession. And at the NATO summit in France and
Germany, he said his new strategy for Afghanistan reflects extensive
In Ankara, Turkey’s capital, Obama told lawmakers their country can
help ensure Muslims and the West listen to each other.
Obama has personal ties to Islam. His father was a Muslim Kenyan,
and Obama lived as a child in Indonesia, the world’s most populous
Muslim country. He told lawmakers that he knows Americans have been
enriched by their country’s Muslim heritage — "I know, because I am
one of them."