U.S. President Barack Obama has begun crucial talks with senior Turkish officials at the start of his two-day visit to Turkey--the first trip to a Muslim country after he assumed office--to strengthen bilateral relations between Washington and Ankara strained by the Iraq war, reports say.

He said he was looking forward to strengthening relations between the two countries that had seen a cooling off of ties during the preceding administration of George Bush, and supporting the vision of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

He is also expected to solicit support for his new policy unveiled recently for Afghanistan and Pakistan that includes proposals to counter a persistent campaign by the Taliban and al-Qaida to foment violence around the world.

Obama, who is in Ankara on the last leg of an eight-day European tour, is scheduled to address the Turkish parliament and reaffirm his country's support to Turkey's bid to become a member of the Europen Union, a U.S. official said.

France, Austria and other nations oppose Turkey's long-running efforts to join the E.U., while others urged Turkey to do more to guarantee minority rights, curb the powers of its military and pass new rights for trades unions.

The two nations were at loggerheads in recent years over such issues as how to deal with Iran's nuclear program, the increasing influence of Hamas in the Palestinian territory of Gaza and political developments in the Sudan.

Large-scale protests across many Turkish cities over suspicions that Obama was seeking to pressure Turkey to send troops to Afghanistan to control the situation there witnessed his visit. The last time Turkey sent its combatant units at U.S. request was during the Korean war of the 1950s.

For comments and feedback: contact editorial@rttnews.com