US President George W. Bush pledged Sunday that he would fight for Turkey to become a member of the European Union and hailed this country as a Muslim nation which embraces democracy and the rule of law.
The US leader held out Turkey as a model for the Middle East as he met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the beginning of an official visit to Turkey a day before a summit in Istanbul of the 26-member NATO alliance.
Bush, on his first-ever trip to Turkey, ignored reporters' questions about the capture in Iraq of three Turkish workers by supporters of al-Zarqawi, who threatened to behead them within 72 hours.
Meanwhile, a White House spokesman, Sean McCormack, said, "We're in close contact with the Turkish government on the issue. It is an awful reminder of the barbaric nature of these terrorists but their acts will not shake the will of free people everywhere."
Bush's visit to Turkey would deal with ways to enhance NATO, which he is pushing to take a greater military role in Iraq.
"I will remind people of this good country that I believe you ought to be given a date by the EU for your eventual acceptance into the EU," he said.
Bush said he and Erdogan would discuss "matters regarding the neighborhood - Iraq and elsewhere."
"I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom," Bush said.
During stops in Ankara and Istanbul through Tuesday, Bush hopes his NATO allies will formally agree to train Iraqi security forces.
Bush's meetings on Sunday with Erdogan - their third this year - and later with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer sandwiched a visit to Ataturk's Mausoleum, a national shrine honoring the father of the modern Turkish Republic.
Bush and his wife, Laura, walked arm-in-arm behind a three-person military honor guard into the marbled memorial and watched as a wreath of red and white flowers was placed at his tomb.
The Bushes paused and the president reached forward and reaarranged a flower; They bowed their heads in respect before leaving.
Later in the day, Bush is expected to head off to Istanbul to meet with religious leaders and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and to attend a dinner with leaders in the alliance. (Albawaba.com)
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