- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

ISTANBUL, Turkey — President Obama ended his visit to this majority Islamic nation Tuesday, by selling America to the world as a place whose youthful optimism offers hope for world conflicts, and challenged Muslim attitudes about Israel.

“The world needs to have a sense that change is possible,” he said, characterizing Americans as “an optimistic people.”

“We believe that anything is possible if we put our mind to it, Mr. Obama said, speaking to a group of about 100 college-age students in a 200-year old cannonball foundry that was transformed into a town hall setting for the event.

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“One thing America may have to offer is an insistence on looking forward, and not backwards.”

Mr. Obama challenged attitudes among many Muslims on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“In the Muslim world, this notion that everything is the fault of the Israelis lacks balance, because there’s two sides to every question,” he said, declaring that “peace in the Middle East is possible.”

“I’m not naive,” Mr. Obama said for the second time in the last three days.

He also sought to dispel the “stereotype” that most Americans are “selfish” or “crass” which he said might be gleaned from watching TV or movies.

“That’s not the country that I know and it’s not the country that I love,” he said.

The president faced some skepticism from the audience.

“Some say just the face is changed and the core is the same,” one young man said, saying that U.S. policies would be the same under Mr. Obama as they were under President Bush.

“This will be tested in time,” Mr. Obama said. “Moving the ship of state is a slow process.”

The president said he hoped that under his guidance the country would “eventually … end up at a very different place” than it was taken under Mr. Bush.

Mr. Obama did make a gesture that would have been unthinkable under his predecessor. As he began taking questions from the students, he said he wanted to be finished “in time for the call to prayer.”

Before speaking with the students, Mr. Obama visited two of Istanbul’s most famous cultural sites, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and also met with religious and cultural leaders.

The president departed Turkey shortly after the event and was scheduled to arrive in Washington by late afternoon.

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