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We are not at war with Islam, declares Obama

BARACK Obama, making his first visit to a Muslim nation as president, said yesterday that the United States "is not and will never be at war with Islam."

Calling for a greater partnership with the Islamic world in an address to the Turkish parliament, Obama called the country an important US ally in many areas, including the fight against terrorism.

He devoted much of his speech to urging a greater bond between Americans and Muslims, portraying terrorist groups such as al-Qaida as extremists who did not represent the vast majority of Muslims.

"Let me say this as clearly as I can," Obama said. "The United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject."

The US president is trying to mend fences with a Muslim world that felt it had been blamed by America for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

For instance, at a news conference earlier with Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, he dealt gingerly with the issue of alleged genocide committed by Turks against Armenians during World War I, urging Turks and Armenians to continue a process "that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive."

Al Jazeera and Al Arabiyia, two of the biggest Arabic satellite channels, carried Obama's speech live.

"America's relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to al-Qaida," he said.

"We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect."

"We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world for the better, including my own country," Obama said.

The president spoke for about 25 minutes from a small white-marble-and-teak rostrum in the well of a vast, airy chamber packed with Turkish politicians who filled the sea of orange leather chairs.

Except for a couple instances of polite applause, the room was almost completely silent throughout his speech.

Obama also heard applause in response to his statement that the US supports Turkey becoming a member of the European Union.

Obama recognized past tensions in the US-Turkey relationship, but said things were on the right track now because both countries share common interests and are diverse nations.

"We don't consider ourselves Christian, Jewish, Muslim. We consider ourselves a nation bound by a set of ideals and values," Obama said of the US. "Turkey has similar principals."

Obama's visit is being closely watched by an Islamic world that harbored a deep distrust of his predecessor, George W. Bush.


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