ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:
ANKARA, TURKEY — "I’ve been asked: ‘Are you trying to make a statement by ending this week long trip in Turkey?’" President Obama said just now at a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. "And the answer is: ‘Yes I am trying to make a statement. Not just about the importance of Turkey to the United States but to the world."
President Obama said that Turkey "lies at the crossroads between East and West" and represents both a blend of a modern state with "extremely rich traditions."
Turkey is a "member of NATO and also a majority Muslim nation, unique in that position," and thus being able to offer "insights into a whole host of strategic and regional challenges that we may face."
“We’re going to be able to I think shape a set of strategies that can bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the West, that can make us more prosperous and secure,” the president said.
The President said in his meeting with Gul he "thanked Turkey for its outstanding work in Afghanistan," and the two discussed Mr. Obama’s new plans for the region. "We have a similar perspective when it comes to how to go forward," Mr. Obama said. "We discussed progress made in Iraq and how to continue to build on that progress."
Other topics included business and commerce, how to achieve Middle East peace, and how to reduce nuclear proliferation "not just in the region but around the world."
Mr .Obama was asked by a Chicago Tribune reporter about his position, as a senator, that Turkey should recognize the genocide committed against the Armenian people by the Ottoman empire during and after World War I, and whether he’d urged President Gul to acknowledge the genocide. This is an extremely sensitive topic, given Turkey’s refusal to use the word "genocide" when discussing its past systematic slaughter of Armenians.
"My views are on the record and I have not changed my views," the president said.
That said, he sidestepped the issue saying that "under President Gul’s leadership, a series of negotiations and a process has been put in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of issues including that one."
Thus, Mr. Obama said, he did not want to focus on his views, allowing the Turkey-Armenia deliberations to continue on their own.
The President started his day at the Ankara Sheraton and proceeded to visit to Anitkabir – the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic. There the president participated in a ceremony and signed the guest book, writing:
"I am honored to pay tribute to Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, a man who (sic) vision, tenacity and courage put the Republic of Turkey on the path of democracy and whose legacy continues to inspire generations around the world. As the 44th president of the United States of America, I look forward to strengthening relations between the U.S. and Turkey and supporting Ataturk’s vision of Turkey as a…prosperous democracy giving hope to its people and providing ‘peace at home , peace in the world.’”
The President then said hello to a group of approximately three dozen US embassy officials and US Air Force personnel. He headed toward his limo but then turned around and told the group, “I thought we were in a hurry but I got a little time,” prompting a cheer.
Next is a major address to the Turkish Parliament where the president is expected to discuss a number of thorny issues, including Turkish membership in the European Union.
– Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller