Obama caps Turkey visit with student 'town hall'
The president fielded questions on Iraq before heading to Baghdad for an unannounced visit.
President Barack Obama capped off his well-received visit to Turkey with a public diplomacy gesture, meeting with a group of 100 Turkish university students for an unscripted town hall meeting that was broadcast live on television. Like his speech yesterday in the Turkish Parliament, the event was part of Mr. Obama's effort to reinvigorate the Turkey-US relationship, which has been battered by policy disagreements and by what observers say was a lack of American outreach to Turkey.Skip to next paragraph
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"In some ways, the foundation has been weakened," Obama told the students, who had gathered in a cultural center housed inside a 17th-century Ottoman building that was once a canon factory. "In some ways, both countries have lost the sense that we are in this together. So I have come to help rebuild that foundation."
"I am personally committed to a new chapter of American engagement," Obama added. "We can't afford to talk past one another, to focus only on our differences, or to let the walls of mistrust go up around us."
Obama made his remarks before leaving Turkey for Baghdad, where he headed to Camp Victory to meet with Gen. Ray Odierno, the top military official in Iraq, and talk with US troops, 10 of whom will be awarded Medals of Valor by the president. A helicopter trip to the Green Zone was canceled due to poor weather; the president will instead speak by phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.
Shortly before leaving, he referenced his opposition to the Iraq war, but reminded his audience that it would be unwise to act hastily in changing course. (For a story on Obama's troop drawdown plans for Iraq, click here.) "Moving the ship of state takes time," he said. "Now that we're there," the US troop withdrawal has to be done "in a careful enough way that we don't see a collapse into violence."
One student asked about America's policy regarding the possibility of an independent Kurdish state being established in Northern Iraq. Ankara worries that such a move would set a dangerous precedent for its own Kurdish population.
"We are very clear about the territorial integrity of Turkey," the president answered. "We would be opposed to anything that would start to cut off parts of Turkey."