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Obama in Turkey: U.S. not selfish and crass

Barack Obama wrapped up his firstEuropean trip as president with a request of the world: Look pasthis nation's stereotypes and flaws. "You will find a partner and asupporter and a friend in the United States of America," hedeclared Tuesday.

"The world will be what you make of it," Obama told collegestudents in Turkey's largest city. "You can choose to build newbridges instead of building new walls."

Promising a "new chapter of American engagement" with the restof the world, Obama said the United States needs to be more patientin its dealings. And he said the rest of the world needs a bettersense "that change is possible so we don't have to always be stuckwith the same arguments."

- Click here to see photo highlights of President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama's overseas trip

The students formed a tight circle around the U.S. president,who slowly paced a sky-blue rug while answering their questions. Hepromised to end the town hall-style session before the Muslim callto prayer.

Obama rejected "stereotypes" about the United States,including that it has become selfish and crass.

"I'm here to tellyou that's not the country I know and not the country I love," thepresident said. "America, like every other nation, has mademistakes and has its flaws, but for more than two centuries it hasstrived" to seek a more perfect union.

He repeated his pledge to rebuild relations between the UnitedStates and the Muslim world.

"I am personally committed to a new chapter of Americanengagement," Obama said. "We can't afford to talk past oneanother, to focus only on our differences, or to let the walls ofmistrust go up around us."

Obama's message was being warmly received by Arabs and Muslims.In an interview published Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walidal-Moallem called his words "important" and "positive."

The questions for Obama at the town-hall meeting were polite andrarely bracing, though one student asked whether there was any realdifference between his White House and the Bush administration.

Obama cautioned that while he had great differences with Bush overissues such as Iraq and climate change, it takes time to change anation as big as the United States.

"Moving the ship of state is a slow process," he said.

The Turkish stop capped an eight-day European trip that senioradviser David Axelrod called "enormously productive" -- includingan economic crisis summit in London and a NATO conclave in Franceand Germany.

Axelrod said specific benefits might be a while in coming. "Youplant, you cultivate, you harvest," he told reporters. "Overtime, the seeds that were planted here are going to be very, veryvaluable."

Picking up on his consultant's theme later, Obama told thecollege students he sees nothing wrong with setting his sights highon goals such as mending relations with Iran and eliminating theworld of nuclear options -- two cornerstone issues of his trip.

"Some people say that maybe I'm being too idealistic," Obamasaid. "But if we don't try, if we don't reach high, then we won'tmake any progress."

Obama's final day in Turkey also featured a meeting withreligious leaders and stops at top tourist sites in this city onthe Bosporus that spans Europe and Asia. Accompanied by PrimeMinister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he toured the Hagia Sophia museumand the Blue Mosque.

At the Blue Mosque, just across a square and manicured gardensfrom Hagia Sophia, the president padded, shoeless like his entireentourage in accordance with religious custom, across the carpetedmosque interior. All around were intricate stained-glass windowsand a series of domes, thick columns and walls entirely covered inblue, red and white tile mosaic. Again, he appeared to speaklittle, as he was schooled in what he was seeing by a guide. Hespent about 40 minutes at both places.

At his Istanbul hotel, Obama met with Istanbul's grand mufti andits chief rabbi, as well as Turkey's Armenian patriarch and SyrianOrthodox archbishop.

In many respects, Obama's European trip was a continentallistening tour.

He told the G-20 summit in London that global cooperation is thekey to ending a crippling recession. And at the NATO summit inFrance and Germany, he said his new strategy for Afghanistanreflects extensive consultation.

In Ankara, Turkey's capital, Obama told lawmakers their countrycan help ensure Muslims and the West listen to each other.

- Click here to see photo highlights of President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama's overseas trip


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