Panetta visits Turkey to reinforce strong Turkish-US ties
Department of Defense sasid the secretary will meet with Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Turkish defense leaders "to thank them for their country's leadership during a period of transition and change within the region."
"Turkey represents a key ally in the Middle East," Panetta told reporters traveling with him.
He added that in addition to being a strong NATO ally, Turkey is extremely important to the ability to try to keep what is happening in the Middle East headed in the right direction.
"They can have an influence on what happens in Egypt, what happens in Iraq, what happens in Iran, what happens in Syria," the secretary said.
The secretary also underlined that Turkey has taken a strong position in condemning Syria's violent crackdown on protestors and calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
"Turkey is coming on very strong in recent weeks in full alignment with our efforts and those of our key Arab and European partners," a senior defense official traveling with Panetta told reporters, American Forces Press Service reported through the Department of Defense web-site.
The secretary also added he will commend Turkey's decision to host the forward-based radar for the NATO missile defense system. He is expected to thank Turkey for its contributions to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. He is scheduled to have talks with Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz on Thursday.
The report also said during the visit, the secretary is expected to express the United States' solidarity in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists and ways to continue that support as US forces complete their drawdown in Iraq, the official said.