April 7, 2009
Obama on the Record: Turkey Town Hall
Tophane Cultural Center
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much. Well, it is a great pleasure to be here. Let me begin by thanking Professor Rahmi Aksungur — did I say that properly — who is director of the university here. And I want to thank all the young people who’ve gathered together. This is a great privilege for me and I’m really looking forward to it.
I’m going to make a few remarks at the beginning and then I want to spend most of the time having an exchange and giving you an opportunity to ask — ask questions of me and I may ask some questions of you.
So as I said yesterday, I came to Turkey on my first trip overseas as President for a reason, and it’s not just to see the beautiful sights here in Istanbul. I came here to reaffirm the importance of Turkey and the importance of the partnership between our two countries. I came here out of my respect to Turkey’s democracy and culture and my belief that Turkey plays a critically important role in the region and in the world. And I came to Turkey because I’m deeply committed to rebuilding a relationship between the United States and the people of the Muslim world — one that’s grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect.
Turkey and the United States have a long history of partnership and cooperation. Exchanges between our two peoples go back over 150 years. We’ve been NATO allies for more than five decades. We have deep ties in trade and education, in science and research. And America is proud to have many men and women of Turkish origin who have made our country a more dynamic and a more successful place. So Turkish-American relations rest on a strong foundation.
That said, I know there have been some difficulties in recent years. In some ways, that foundation has been weakening. We’ve had some specific differences over policy, but we’ve also at times lost the sense that both of our countries are in this together — that we have shared interests and shared values and that we can have a partnership that serves our common hopes and common dreams.
So I came here to renew that foundation and to build on it. I enjoyed visiting your parliament. I’ve had productive discussions with your President and your Prime Minister. But I also always like to take some time to talk to people directly, especially young people. So in the next few minutes I want to focus on three areas in which I think we can make some progress: advancing dialogue between our two countries, but also advancing dialogue between the United States and the Muslim world; extending opportunity in education and in social welfare; and then also reaching out to young people as our best hope for peaceful, prosperous futures in both Turkey and in the United States.