In Turkey, Biden touts political freedoms

AP News
Posted: Dec 03, 2011 1:36 PM
In Turkey, Biden touts political freedoms

A free political climate is essential to economic innovation, and countries that try to censor the Internet are pursuing a "dead end," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told a group of young entrepreneurs gathered in Istanbul on Saturday.

The international forum, which drew hundreds of attendees, followed up on a meeting in Washington last year aimed at deepening ties between the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

Biden said a political system based on freedom of speech and religion also is the "truest shield" against sectarian strife that has afflicted the Middle East, as well as western Europe in past centuries.

"Democratic revolutions like the ones in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and the ones still unfolding in Syria and Yemen, are imbued, literally imbued, with entrepreneurial spirit, a spirit that requires risk and initiative, steadfast determination, and a unifying idea," Biden said.

He stressed the importance of a "free political climate in which ideas and innovation can flourish," adding that governments should not try to close the Internet to free expression.

"Those countries will find that that approach is a dead end," he said.

"They may try to build walls between these different activities, but there isn't a separate economic Internet, a political Internet and a social Internet. There is simply an Internet and it must remain free and open," Biden said.

America has a history of innovation, Biden said, noting the success of companies such as Apple and Google, as well as breakthroughs in medical technology such as mobile phone apps that can help diagnose malaria.

He praised Turkey, noting that the Muslim ally's economy has tripled in size over the last decade.

Turkey's deputy prime minister, Ali Babacan, said Turkey was an example for the region of how Islam and democracy can coexist peacefully.

"International theories are OK, but a living example is much more convincing," Babacan said. He referred to a "problem of political leadership" in some European countries, an apparent reference to the continent's economic turmoil as well as Turkey's frustration over its stalled bid to join the European Union.

The U.S. leader arrived in Turkey late Thursday and has been meeting with top officials here. He has urged Turkey to impose new sanctions on Iran, while praising Ankara for its role in pressuring Syria to stop its deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Also Saturday, Biden visited the Istanbul home of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is recovering from a surgery. The meeting lasted about two hours. In a picture distributed by Erdogan's office, the prime minister was seen standing next to Biden as the two leaders smiled. Erdogan was wearing a shirt and jacket but no tie.

In the meeting, Erdogan asked Biden about U.S. intentions in Iraq, and the vice president said the U.S. military pullout there did not entail American disengagement because robust civilian initiatives will continue, a senior U.S. administration official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Biden also stressed the U.S. commitment to assisting Turkey in its fight against autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, according to the official. The U.S. has deployed four Predator drones to Turkey from Iraq and also agreed to sell three helicopter gunships to help fight the rebels, who stage attacks on Turkish targets from their bases in northern Iraq.

Biden also expressed hope to Erdogan that Turkey and Israel, U.S. allies whose ties have deteriorated sharply, would seek opportunities to repair their relationship, the U.S. official said. The American vice president also said he hoped Turkey would reopen a seminary that trained generations of Greek Orthodox patriarchs.

The Halki Theological School on Heybeliada Island, near Istanbul, was closed to new students in 1971 under a law that put religious and military training under state control. The school closed its doors in 1985, when the last five students graduated.

Biden later traveled in his motorcade to meet Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, at his headquarters in Istanbul.

In August, Turkey's government said it was returning hundreds of properties confiscated from the country's Christian and Jewish minorities over the past 75 years in a gesture to religious groups who complain of discrimination.