Turkey warms to Clinton's candor
Was it TV magic or intelligent diplomacy? A month before Obama's visit, Hillary charms Turkey in a talk- show stop.
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last week, on her first trip to Europe and the Middle East as secretary of state, Clinton's public diplomacy push included a town hall-style meeting in Brussels and a meeting with students in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Her stop in Israel did not include any interviews with the Israeli media, however.Skip to next paragraph
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During the television interview in Ankara, she tackled such important questions as her fashion sense and when the last time was that she fell in love.
"It was so long ago, with my husband," she told the studio audience. "We have been talking to each other and enjoying our life together ever since."
Regarding her clothing style, Clinton joked that the "fashion gene" had skipped her generation and went to daughter Chelsea.
The discussion might not have offered deep insight into the vexing geopolitical problems that plague the region, but her openness was noted. At a low-budget hotel in the heart of Istanbul, night clerk Ali Demir, splitting his attention between Clinton's television appearance and a soccer game streaming live on his computer screen, says he likes the secretary of state's approach.
"This is a good change. It's a different way," the clerk says about Clinton's interview.
"She's more colorful and seems closer to the people, more likable."
Any substance to the message?
Certainly, the Clinton name still has power in Turkey. A 1999 trip by then president Bill Clinton and his wife, where he visited an area that had been devastated by an earthquake, is still fondly remembered by Turks. In Istanbul's sprawling Grand Bazaar, it seems like almost every shop has a picture of the owner shaking hands with a beaming Bill Clinton.
"In Turkish-American relations, as much as the message matters, the messenger also matters," says Suat Kiniklioglu, a member of parliament and Deputy Chairman of External Affairs for Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). "The name Clinton resonates differently here."
He adds: "Her coming to Turkey is probably going to be a pressing of the reset button and starting with a clean slate. Turkey is ready for that. The last eight years have been troublesome."
Still, some observers warn that television appearances alone will not be enough to sway Turkish public opinion.
"Overall, Obama's policies towards the region, towards Muslims, these are the things that will help improve America's image in Turkey. Clinton's appearance is a good start, but without a change in the main policies, you can't expect things to improve," says Lale Sariibrahimoglu, an Ankara-based analyst and a columnist for the English-language newspaper Today's Zaman.
"You can't just appoint someone to be in charge of PR. The product has to be good if you want it to sell."