WASHINGTON — President Bush held up Turkey’s democracy as an important example for other Mideast nations Wednesday during an Oval Office meeting with the country’s prime minister in which both leaders declared a strong relationship after differences over Iraq.
“We’re happy that we were able to confirm that our strategic relationship will move and take place in the future as it has been done in the past,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Bush thanked Erdogan for Turkey’s support in building democracy in Afghanistan and working with the Palestinians to build an independent state.
“Turkey and the United States have an important strategic relationship,” Bush said. “I told the prime minister how grateful I was that he is a strong supporter of the Broader Middle Eastern Initiative.”
Erdogan said they also discussed plans to reunify Cyprus, a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea that has been divided since 1974 between a Greek Cypriot-controlled south and the Turkish-occupied north. Turkey alone recognizes the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north, and keeps 40,000 troops there.
The issue has become vital for Turkey as it pushes to join the European Union, which already includes the divided island. The United States supports Turkey’s bid for membership in the EU.
Erdogan said he and Bush also discussed Iraq, but neither leader provided any details about what was said. They did not take questions from reporters but only gave brief statements at the end of their meeting.
Turkey’s relations with the United States showed some strain after Ankara refused to allow U.S. troops in the country for the Iraq war. Erdogan’s trip to Washington has been seen as a fence-mending visit and both leaders said he also encouraged U.S. investment in Turkey.
Bush said the visit was extensive and that they focused on “foreign policy and shared interests between our countries.”
“Turkey’s democracy is an important example for the people in the broader Middle East, and I want to thank you for your leadership,” Bush said to Erdogan in front of the cameras.
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