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Obama Trip to Include Turkey Visit

President Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama yesterday on his way to Camp David, is likely to schedule his visit to Turkey at the end of next month's European trip. At left, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who announced the visit yesterday in Ankara, poses for photographers with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is well-placed to serve as a key administration ally on issues of importance to a population dismayed by U.S. policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.
President Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama yesterday on his way to Camp David, is likely to schedule his visit to Turkey at the end of next month's European trip. At left, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who announced the visit yesterday in Ankara, poses for photographers with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is well-placed to serve as a key administration ally on issues of importance to a population dismayed by U.S. policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)
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A senior Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, said: "This visit is not about healing some E.U.-NATO rift. This is about underscoring our deep alliance with Turkey, that it is an important part of Europe, and that it is an important voice in the Muslim world."

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Turkey's elected Islamist government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been presented as a model in the Arab Muslim world where some more radical Islamist parties are gaining political influence. But there is a constant contest in Turkish politics between the Islamist parties and the nation's military leadership, which has intervened several times over the years to topple governments that it believed strayed from modern Turkey's secular founding principles.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has served as an intermediary in talks between Israel and Syria over the status of the Golan Heights, the key to an eventual peace agreement between the two countries. Those efforts were waylaid by the recent Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which drew condemnation across the Muslim world.

But Turkey, which also has relations with the armed Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza, is viewed by many European and U.S. diplomats as an essential bridge between the Jewish state and its Arab Muslim neighbors.

Last week, the Obama administration sent two envoys to Damascus, the Syrian capital, in an effort to revive diplomacy between the countries that has been largely dormant since the Bush administration recalled its ambassador four years ago. Some analysts said Obama's visit will provide an opportunity for him to hear firsthand from Turkish leaders what they have learned working with Syria as he begins to do the same.

Turkey is also a key link in the delivery of oil and natural gas from the resource-rich Caspian basin. The administration has great interest in the development of a natural-gas pipeline that would follow roughly the same route as an oil pipeline now running from the Caspian region through Turkey. In a statement issued with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, Clinton reiterated the administration's desire to "enhance energy security and to expand the Southern corridor" for natural gas and oil delivery.


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