Mon, Jun 28, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Bush praises Turkish democracy

FRIENDSHIP The US president said the Islamic republic could serve as a role model for the Middle East on how to be both Moslem and democratic

AP , ANKARA, TURKEY

US President George W. Bush pledged yesterday that he will fight for Turkey to become a member of the EU, and praised the country as a Moslem nation which embraces democracy and the rule of law.

He held out Turkey as a model for the Middle East as he met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the start of an official visit to Turkey a day before a summit in Istanbul of the 26-member NATO alliance.

Bush's first-ever visit to Turkey is officially meant to examine ways to strengthen NATO, but he is also using it to bolster the US relationship with Turkey, a key ally in the region and in the campaign against terrorism.

Turks overwhelmingly opposed the war in Iraq and Bush is widely unpopular. His arrival in Ankara was preceded by a series of protests and bomb blasts, including one on Thursday that injured three people outside the hotel where he is staying and one that killed four people and injured 14 others on a bus.

There was no mention during Bush's visit of the Turkish parliament's rejection last year of a US request to let US troops use Turkish bases as a staging point to invade Iraq from the north.

Instead, Bush emphasized his support for Turkey's bid for admission to the EU.

"I will remind people of this good country that I believe you ought to be given a date by the EU for your eventual acceptance into the EU," he said.

"I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Moslem country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom," Bush said.

Bush is hoping his talks with Turkish leaders will smooth the US partnership with the only Moslem nation in the Western alliance.

Distrust of US policy in Iraq reaches from the streets to the halls of government. Politicians here worry that if the new government in Baghdad collapses it will destabilize Iraq, Turkey's neighbor.

At the NATO summit, Bush hopes the alliance will formally agree to train Iraqi security forces.

NATO nations tentatively agreed on Saturday to respond to interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's urgent request for military training and equipment. The agreement is expected to be finalized at the summit. The meeting ends tomorrow, a day before the transfer of political power in Iraq.

"Every indication I have now is that NATO is coming together to say that they would be willing to provide police and military training to Iraqi forces," US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on CNN.

In Istanbul, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said yesterday that the NATO mission to train Iraqi forces would involve alliance instructors working both inside and outside the country. However, he told reporters it was too early to say how many NATO military personnel would be going to Iraq or when they would be deployed.

The NATO offer would be a boost for the US, which has sought a wider role by the alliance in Iraq. However, it falls short of earlier US hopes that NATO would deploy troops to help restore order there. Sixteen of the 26 NATO members have individually sent forces to help the US-led coalition.

"NATO has the capability -- and I believe the responsibility -- to help the Iraqi people defeat the terrorist threat that's facing their country," Bush said on Saturday after a US-EU summit in Ireland.

"I hope NATO responds in a positive way because the ultimate success inside of Iraq is going to depend on the ability of the Iraqi citizens to defend themselves," he said.

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