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Obama going to Turkey; speech site still unclear

March 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Turkey will be a stop on President Obama’s forthcoming European tour, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Ankara on Sunday. The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson has the story here.

Obama’s stop in Turkey… partly fulfills Obama’s pledge to engage the Muslim world in a substantive way within his first 100 days in office.

But Turkey will not the site of the major speech he promised in a Muslim country. Speculation has swirled on where that speech might be held since he made the promise, prior to the election. Some have guessed Indonesia, on the basis of his background there; others have suggested that he might like to make it closer to the Middle East. In any case, aides will apparently take longer to sharpen the speech for the time being:

As past administrations have found, Turkey is a useful partner because of its placement and politics:

As a non-Arab Muslim nation, Turkey is well-placed to serve as a key administration ally on those issues. Governed by a moderate Islamist party, Turkey has managed to accommodate religious and secular values in its democratic system, something other governments in the Arab Middle East have been unable to achieve with the same success.

The other interesting angle here, and one that the Post buries, is the symbolic importance of the American president visiting Turkey as part of a European tour. The nation’s EU bid remains stuck in limbo, stalled by EU requirements and staunch French opposition to Turkey joining the union. By making this visit now and not as part of a Middle Eastern or Central Asian tour, Obama is surely sending a message, consciously or not.

–David Graham, Trinity ’09 and Editor

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