Turkey’s $4.5 billion of exports to the United States is just “peanuts” in view of the $1.8 trillion that the U.S. imports annually from countries around the world, according to Nabi Sensoy, the Turkish ambassador to the U.S.

Mr. Sensoy was in Atlanta Nov. 23 and 24 as the first speaker in the newly endowed Turkish lecture series at Emory University.

He told GlobalAtlanta in a video interview that the U.S. and Turkey should increase both their trade and investments with each other, and that Turkey’s growing economic strength made it a more important business partner for the U.S.

Whether he was aware that Georgia is the No. 1 peanut producing state is pretty much irrelevant. His point was that in view of the strengthening political and economic ties between Turkey and the U.S., the potential exists for more trade and investment, even in view of the global recession.

Mr. Sensoy’s visit is the latest in a round of Turkish-related events taking place in Atlanta this year. Kennesaw State University is sponsoring the “Year of Turkey;” the Istanbul Center in Midtown is promoting educational and cultural events and the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeastern U.S. is organizing trade delegations.

While affected by the recession, Mr. Sensoy said that Turkey’s banking system had been able to weather the current financial turmoil because the Turkish banks had adopted safeguards following a financial crisis of their own in 2001.

Meanwhile, Turkey has chosen six U.S. states on which to focus its attention to increase economic ties, including Georgia primarily because of its economic potential, its geographic position and the presence of several important multinationals that he called “boosters.”

Mr. Sensoy said that when he assumed his position as U.S. ambassador three years ago, his top priority was to focus on strengthening the economic ties.

He added that he had not been as successful as he would have liked “because other things got in the way,” without enumerating exactly what he had been working on.

But he said that he now planned to become more engaged in promoting Turkey’s growing economic strength as the 17th largest economy in the world.

By 2023, Turkey wants to be the 11th largest economy in the world,” he added. To reach this goal, it was reaching out to new markets around the world including those in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and South Asia.Turkey plans to open 15 embassies in sub-Saharan African countries as part of this initiative, he said.

Turkey’s economic advances are matched by its increasing importance politically, he said, since it is at the “epicenter” of Eurasia.

He mentioned several times Turkey’s selection by a vote of 151 out of 192 countries in the United Nations to be a non-voting member of its Security Council for two years.

While Turkey is important geopolitically as the southeast bulwark of NATO against Soviet expansion, today it plays an even more important role because of its geographic location and its political system, Mr. Sensoy said.

“The new world order is still being made,” he said, adding that some of the biggest threats to world peace include terrorism, smuggling of drugs and human beings and weapons of mass destruction.

“No longer are the major threats from the big powers,” he added. “There are more threats from weak nations, even tough Russia is flexing its muscles.”

At the heart of Turkey’s increased influence, he added, was a new “smart power” based on its ability to blend its military strength with “soft power,” which he defined as the country’s support of democracy and fundamental freedoms, human rights and the rule of law.

Turkey has the second largest army after the U.S. in NATO, he said during a luncheon address at Emory.

Although 99 percent of Turkey 70 million population is Muslim, Turkey’s secularism is deeply rooted and not threatened by proactive Islamists, he also said.

Mr. Sensoy’s visit was sponsored by the Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning at Emory University.

To learn more about programs at the institute, go to http://halleinstitute.emory.edu/.