ANKARA, Turkey – President Bush sought on Sunday to bolster America's partnership with vital ally Turkey (search), a courtship complicated by terrorists' threats to decapitate three Turks unless the country's companies stop aiding U.S. forces in Iraq (search).
Bush hoped to use a NATO (search) summit here to nail down details of the alliance's tentative plan to assist with the training of Iraqi security forces. But he also was getting a reminder of widespread opposition in Turkey to the war in Iraq, its southern neighbor. More than 40,000 demonstrators, some chanting "USA get out of the Middle East," gathered in Istanbul to protest his visit.
Bush held up Turkey as a model for the Middle East as he met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (search) one day before the summit in Istanbul of the 26-member NATO alliance.
"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.
There was no mention here of the Turkish parliament's rejection last year of a U.S. request to let American troops use Turkish bases as a staging point to invade Iraq from the north.
Instead, Bush emphasized his support for Turkey's bid for admission to the European Union (search).
"I believe you ought to be given a date by the EU for your eventual acceptance into the EU," he said.
Bush, on his first trip to Turkey, ignored reporters' questions about the capture in Iraq of three Turkish workers by supporters of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search), a Jordanian-born terrorist believed to have ties to Al Qaeda. The kidnappers threatened to behead their hostages within 72 hours.
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."
At the NATO summit, Bush hopes the alliance will formally agree to train Iraqi security forces. The summit ends Tuesday, a day before the transfer of political power in Iraq.
NATO nations tentatively agreed Saturday to respond to interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's (search) urgent request for military training and equipment.
"Every indication I have now is that NATO is coming together to say that they would be willing to provide police and military training to Iraqi forces," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on a cable news network.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said, "I think you'll see this happen rather quickly."
"NATO will urge that this all happen on a very urgent basis, that this isn't a long planning exercise," she said on Fox News. The training would be done by member countries, preferably inside Iraq, she said.
NATO participation would be a boost for the United States, which has sought a wider role by the alliance in Iraq. However, it falls short of earlier U.S. hopes that NATO would deploy troops to help restore order there. Sixteen of the 26 NATO members have individually sent forces as part of the U.S.-led coalition.
"NATO has the capability - and I believe the responsibility - to help the Iraqi people defeat the terrorist threat that's facing their country," Bush said Saturday following a U.S.-European Union summit in Ireland. "I hope NATO responds in a positive way because the ultimate success inside of Iraq is going to depend on the ability of the Iraqi citizens to defend themselves."
After Bush's third meeting of the year with Erdogan, he sat down with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. In between those sessions, he visited Ataturk's Mausoleum (search), a national shrine honoring the father of the modern Turkish Republic.
On a blazingly hot, sunny day, 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.
Later in the day, Bush flew to Istanbul to meet with religious leaders and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (search), and to attend a dinner with leaders in the alliance.
Bush is widely unpopular here, and his arrival in Ankara was preceded by protests and bomb blasts, including one Thursday that injured three people outside the hotel where he is staying. Another blast that day on an Istanbul bus killed four people and injured 14.
Sunday, tens of thousands of demonstrators massed in Istanbul to protest Bush's visit. "We want to throw NATO out of Istanbul," said Dogan Aytac, a Turkish protester with a flag stuck in his hat that read: "Get out Bush!"
The kidnappers of the three Turks sought to fan the protests, calling for demonstrations in Turkey against Bush's visit.
F-16 warplanes patrolled the skies of Istanbul on Sunday, and more than 23,000 police were called to duty during the summit. Turkish commandos are patrolling the Bosporus in rubber boats with mounted machine guns.