Ankara, Turkey When Obama arrives in Turkey tonight for a two-day visit to this capital city and Istanbul, he will find a nation of nearly 72 million Muslims almost giddy at the prospect of improved relations with the United States after years of tension with the Bush administration.
“Obama is going to just mesmerize people,” said Ali Carkoglu, professor of political science at Sabanci University in Istanbul. “He’s going to be a rock star.”
By making a high-profile visit to this proudly secular, predominantly Muslim nation on his first overseas trip, Obama is signaling Turkey’s strategic importance as a bridge between the West and the Middle East.
Turkey is a member of NATO and the Group of 20 leading economies, it holds a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council (for the first time since 1961) and it is pressing to join the European Union.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been deeply involved in dialogue between Israel and Syria, and with Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it has about 1,200 troops deployed as part of a NATO force.
“During the Bush administration, we had some different views. But now we have identical policies with the Obama administration,” said Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser, who called Obama’s visit “historic.”