ANKARA (AFP)–US President Barack Obama will visit Turkey on April 6-7, following an invitation from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attend a forum aimed at fostering dialogue between the West and the Muslim world.
Erdogan said late Wednesday he had invited Obama to attend a meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative in Istanbul on April 7 and expressed surprise that the US president responded with a proposal also for an official visit to Ankara the day before.
"I didn’t expect (an official visit) that soon," Erdogan said in an interview with TGRT television, adding that Obama was expected to attend the Istanbul forum as well.
"The official visit will be probably combined with the Alliance of Civilizations meeting… That is very meaningful for us," he said.
Predominantly Muslim, secular Turkey is a NATO member and a close ally of the United States in a troubled region.
The UN-backed Alliance of Civilizations initiative was launched in 2005 in a bid to help overcome prejudices and misunderstandings between different cultures and religions. It is co-chaired by Turkey and Spain.
Obama has voiced determination to improve ties with the Islamic world and said he would give a major speech from a Muslim country during his first year in office.
US national security advisor Jim Jones has informed Ankara that Turkey is among several venues the White House is considering for the speech, Anatolia news agency quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan as saying Thursday.
Obama’s program in Turkey has not yet been finalized and it is not known whether he would make any speech during his visit, Babacan added.
Erdogan said the agenda of bilateral talks with Obama would include the Middle East conflict, efforts to end the division of Cyprus and Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Turkey earlier this month, saying that it was time to buttress relations between the two NATO allies, which went through a chilly period over the US invasion of Iraq.