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President Obama to Visit Turkey Within Weeks


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says President Barack Obama will travel to Turkey within the next month. The visit could be seen as a sign of improvement in a long friendship between the two NATO allies that was strained by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

After meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was keen to stress the importance of Turkey to the United States. "President Obama asked me to send a personal message as a reflection of the value of we place on our friendship with Turkey. President Obama will be visiting Turkey within in the next month or so," she said.

Analysts see Obama's planned visit as a significant step in strengthening U.S.-Turkish relations, which were severely strained during the previous Bush administration.

The majority-Muslim country refused to allow the United States to use Turkey to launch attacks against Iraq, when the U.S.-led invasion began in 2003.

The invasion itself was deeply unpopular among the Turkish public. According to opinion polls, anti U.S. sentiment in Turkey is amongst the highest in the world. But Clinton's visit is being viewed as starting a new chapter in U.S.-Turkish relations.

The U.S. Secretary of State paid tribute to Turkey for its Middle East peace efforts. "I offered my appreciation to the prime minister and foreign minister for the leadership role that Turkey has played in bringing Syria and Israel together," she said.

Turkey for more than a year has mediated between Tel Aviv and Damascus. But efforts collapsed with the Israeli attack on Gaza.

This week, the Obama administration's sent Jeffrey Feltman, the top State Department envoy on the Mideast, and Daniel Shapiro from the White House, to Syria. The move is seen as the most significant sign yet that it is ready to improve relations with the Syrian government after years of tension.

Clinton said while issues between Syria and the United States are being explored, they have not yet decided on concrete steps.

The U.S. Secretary of State also praised the role of Turkish forces in Afghanistan. "Turkey has been a major contributor to the ongoing struggle to stabilize Afghanistan. I remember the first time I flew into Afghanistan in 2003 , the officer who met me was a Turkish officer," she said.

Clinton was in Israel and the West Bank earlier this week where she discussed Turkey's role in Middle East peacemaking. She also wants Turkey to be helpful in convincing its neighbors to allow their territory to become supply routes to Afghanistan where U.S. and other NATO forces are fighting a Taliban insurgency.

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