- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

BREAKING NEWS, UPDATED:

CAIRO (AP) — President Barack Obama called for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims” Thursday and said together, they could confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East.

“This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,” Obama said in a widely anticipated speech in one of the world’s largest Muslim countries, an address designed to reframe relations after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq.

In a gesture, Obama conceded at the beginning of his remarks that tension “has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”

“And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear,” he said.

At the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse. “Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

Obama spoke at Cairo University after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the second stop of a four-nation trip to the Middle East and Europe.

The speech was the centerpiece of his journey, and while its tone was striking, the president also covered the Middle East peace process, Iran, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the violence struggle waged by al-Qaida.

Obama arrived in the Middle East on Wednesday, greeted by a new and threatening message from al-Qaida’s leader, Osama bin Laden. In an audio recording, the terrorist leader said the president inflamed the Muslim world by ordering Pakistan to crack down on militants in Swat Valley and block Islamic law there.

But the president said the actions of violent extremist Muslims are “irreconcilable with the rights of human beings,” and quoted the Quran to make his point.

“Islam is not part of the problem in combatting violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace,” he said.

The White House said Obama’s speech contained no new policy proposals on the Middle East, and he issued an evenhanded call to Israel and Palestinians alike to live up to their international obligations.

“Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist,” he said of the organization the United States deems as terrorists.

“The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people.”

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