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First thoughts: Obama in Turkey

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama in Turkey: On the next-to-last day of his long overseas trip, President Obama is in Ankara, Turkey, where he already has attended a wreath-laying ceremony at Ataturak's Tomb, held a brief bilateral press conference with Turkish President Gul, and addressed the Turkish Parliament. In that speech, Obama said he's "committed to renewing the alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people." He added, "Some people have asked me if I chose to continue my travels to Ankara and Istanbul to send a message to the world." His answer: yes. "Turkey is a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together -- and work together -- to overcome the challenges of our time." Obama also discussed his race when talking about minority rights in Turkey. "I say this as the President of a country that not too long ago made it hard for someone who looks like me to vote. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries." And he touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security." Clearly, this speech was about how Turkey can be a major player in achieving Middle East peace.

Video: Obama visits Turkey to try and strengthen U.S. ties with the country and bring stability to the Middle East.

*** The push for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world: Later this morning, Obama holds a bilateral with Prime Minister Erdogan before departing to Istanbul. Of course, Obama's stop in Turkey is his first visit as president to a predominantly Muslim country. And it's his latest push for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. Remember when he said this during his inauguration: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." This morning, at the press conference with President Gul, Obama said he was hopeful to shape a set of policies and strategies to "bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the West." His visit to this majority-Muslim nation comes as a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds that 81% think it's "very important" or "somewhat important" for Obama to improve U.S. relations with Muslim nations. However, the poll also shows that 48% of Americans (including six in 10 Republicans and four in 10 Democrats) have an unfavorable opinion of Islam.

Video: Obama's trip alludes to U.S. efforts to smooth relations with the Muslim world.

*** Basketball makes the world go round: Also don't miss this line from Obama during his speech before Turkey's Parliament. "The ties among our people have deepened as well, and more and more Americans of Turkish origin live and work and succeed within our borders. As a basketball fan, I've even noticed that Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur have got some pretty good game."

*** Cheney vs. Obama: The verbal back-and-forth between former VP Dick Cheney and the Obama administration continued yesterday, when Obama adviser David Axelrod told CNN: "[President Bush] has behaved like a statesman. And as I've said before, here and elsewhere, I just don't think the memo got passed down to the vice president."

*** A solemn ceremony: For the first time since the ban was lifted on covering ceremonies of war dead arriving at Dover Air Force base, the press late last night saw the family of U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Phillip Myers welcome him home for the last time, NBC's Courtney Kube reports. On Saturday, April 4, Staff Sgt. Myers was killed by an IED near Helmand Province in Afghanistan. A new Pentagon policy now gives families of the fallen the choice to either allow or deny media coverage of the return of their loved ones remains. Kube adds that Staff Sgt. Myers' remains arrived on a commercial 747 late Sunday night. The U.S. military flew his widow in from Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, United Kingdom, so she could be there to witness the brief 15-minute ceremony. Several of their relatives from nearby Hopewell, VA were also present. Myers was a demolition expert, assigned to the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron. He is now among the nearly 5,000 men and women who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose remains have transited through Dover.

*** Cracking down: Meanwhile, in DC today, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Attorney General Eric Holder, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, and Illinois AG Lisa Madigan will hold a press conference at the Treasury Department to announce a new multi-agency effort to crack down on foreclosure rescue scams and loan modification fraud.

*** The politics of baseball: And per NBC's Dax Tejera, two political VIPs today will throw out the Opening Day first pitch. Vice President Joe Biden will do the honors for the Baltimore Orioles (and he'll be joined by eight boys and girls from the Baltimore Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities League), while George W. Bush will hurl the opening pitch at the Texas Rangers' season opener.

Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 23 days 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 57 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 64 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 211 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 575 days

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