Clinton stresses Turkey’s role in regional peace; Istanbul hosts Afghan-Pakistan summit

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to hold talks in Istanbul with other world leaders. (Reuters)

Turkey’s economic development and its role as a regional power will be reinforced by a strengthening of its democracy and peace with its neighbors, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said late Monday.

“Turkey’s ability to realize its full potential depends upon its resolve to strengthen democracy at home and promote peace in the neighborhood,” Clinton said in a speech at the American-Turkish Council.

“Turkey’s economic leadership could be a powerful force for progress across the region,” she said.

“A vibrant economy depends upon the free exchange of ideas, the free flow of information, and the rule of law. Strengthening due process and cracking down on corruption helps any country grow more rapidly. So would protecting a free and independent media.”

The Turkish economy, the 17th largest in the world, staged a spectacular recovery from the global crisis, growing 8.9 percent in 2010.

But unemployment remains a major challenge for the government in a country where many young people swell the workforce each year, and a declining farming sector drives unqualified laborers to urban areas.

“The process of perfecting a democracy is never complete. It requires, as we know from our own experience, unrelenting effort, and vigilance to prevent backsliding,” said the U.S. secretary of state.

“Reducing tensions with neighbors and increasing stability in the neighborhood is a recipe for expanded growth and influence. Turkey’s leaders understand this,” she said.

“But it will take bold choices and strong political will to leave the past behind and embrace the future Turkey deserves.”

Clinton made the address shortly before calling off late Monday a trip to London and Istanbul to be with her ailing mother, the State Department announced.

“Due to illness with her mother, Secretary Clinton has canceled her scheduled travel tonight to London and Istanbul, and will instead remain in Washington,” a department spokesman said in a statement.

Clinton changed her travel plans shortly before she was to have left the U.S. capital for Afghanistan to urge its neighbors to avoid meddling there and instead build economic ties with the war-torn state.

Shortly after visiting Afghanistan and three neighboring states, Clinton was to have held talks Wednesday in Istanbul with a broader group about how to boost peace and prosperity after U.S. combat troops withdraw in 2014 and hand over to Afghan forces.

Talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Turkey hopes talks it is hosting between the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan in Istanbul on Tuesday will reduce their deep mutual mistrust and begin a new period of cooperation between the two neighbors.

Bilateral relations have been marred by accusations that each is helping militant enemies of the other, and Afghan officials have said they suspect Pakistani intelligence of backing the Taliban and its insurgent ally the Haqqani network.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul held separate talks with Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Zardari of Pakistan in an ancient Ottoman palace overlooking the Bosphorus before the three-way talks later Tuesday.

The meeting ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan on Wednesday in Turkey is the first between the two neighbors since the assassination of the former Afghan leader and peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani on Sept. 20.

Kabul has accused Islamabad of refusing to cooperate in the investigation of the murder, which according to Afghan authorities, was planned in Pakistan and committed by a Pakistani suicide bomber.

“The regional environment is deteriorating. We will try to resolve differences and play a facilitator role to address the mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said a Turkish diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, AFP reported.

He added that all countries in the region have a duty to work for peace in Afghanistan.

The three presidents will also discuss their fight against the Islamist insurgency and sign agreements enshrining their commitment to cooperate in the field of security, according to the same source.

Many Afghans believe Pakistan is supporting the Taliban in order to regain influence in Kabul once Western forces leave.

Pakistan has also come under pressure from Kabul and Washington over allegations that it’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) has close ties with the Haqqani group, which operates inside Afghanistan with a rear base in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.

Pakistan has denied the allegations, and officials have called on Afghanistan and U.S. forces there to act decisively against anti-Pakistan militants operating from Afghanistan.

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