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Obama says US not at war with Islam

world Updated: Apr 06, 2009 21:49 IST

President Barack Obama declared on Monday that the United States was not, and never will be, at war with Islam, during a visit to Turkey, his first trip to a Muslim nation since his election.

"The United States is not and never will be at war with Islam," Obama said, in a major address to the Turkish parliament on the final leg of his tour of Europe.

Washington is seeking 'broad engagement' with Muslim countries, he said, adding: "We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding... We will be respectful, even when we do not agree."

Obama announced he would unveil in the coming months 'specific programmes' to enhance education and health care and boost prosperity in Muslim countries by expanding trade and investment.

Addressing Iran, Turkey's eastern neighbour, Obama warned that the Islamic republic has to make a choice between having a nuclear weapon and building a better future for its people.

"I have made it clear to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic that the United States seeks engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect," he said.

"Now, Iran's leaders must choose whether they will try to build a weapon or build a better future for their people."

The US president also voiced support for peace efforts in the Middle East, backing both the Annapolis agreement and the stalled roadmap that laid out the route to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

His remarks came after Israel's new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said last week the 2007 Annapolis document did not bind Israel though he did accept the roadmap as the basis for progress.
"Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," Obama said.

"That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis, and people of goodwill around the world.

"That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the roadmap and at Annapolis. And that is a goal that I will actively pursue as president," he said.

Hailing Turkey as a 'critical ally' in the region, Obama praised Ankara's mediation of indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria, shelved since January when the Jewish state launched a deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip.

The president also voiced robust backing for Turkey's bid to join the European Union, saying Ankara's accession would strengthen Europe.

"Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union," he said to the applause of Turkish lawmakers.

"Turkey is bound to Europe by more than bridges over the Bosphorous... "Europe gains by diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith -- it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more," he said.