- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009


CAIRO, EGYPT — Seeking to unite Muslims from Indonesia to Morocco to Detroit around common goals of peace and dreams of a brighter future, President Obama Thursday called for a new beginning for the United States and Islamic world.

“We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all Gods children are respected,” he said to an audience of about 3,500 at Cairo University.

“Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.”

Reactions to Obama speech highlight regional divide

Mr. Obama pushed for Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program and said both Israelis and Palestinians must work together for peace.

He said the United States is willing to move forward with Iran without preconditions, but would stand firm on the nuclear issue. He wants a world in which “no nations hold nuclear weapons.”

“The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build,” Mr. Obama said. “This is not simply about America’s interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”

Mr. Obama also pointedly said anyone who denies the Holocaust killed millions of Jewish people during World War II are “ignorant” and “hateful,” a reference to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

To punctuate his call for a two-state solution to end the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians, Mr. Obama used the often avoided term “Palestine.”

He lauded the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel but said “the pain of dislocation” for Palestinian people who live daily without peace or security is “intolerable,” and pledged America would not turn its back on them.

“The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met,” he said, to applause, promising he would pursue that solution with patience.

“For peace to come it is time for them and all of us to live up to our responsibilities,” he said.

He said Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israels right to exist.

But in a line that drew applause, Mr. Obama repeated his promise the United States would not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements along the West Bank.

Scholars and interest groups in both the U.S. and abroad had called for him to address the struggle for democracy in Egypt and many Arab nations, an issue he tackled during the speech.

“America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election, but I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesnt steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose,” Mr. Obama said. “Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

In a speech that quoted from the Koran, Talmud and Bible, Mr. Obama offered up his own heritage, using his full name — Barack Hussein Obama — and noting he heard the call to prayer when living as a young boy in Indonesia.

He stated he is a Christian despite his father’s Muslim heritage.

“I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed,” said the president, whose father was from Kenya and his mother from Kansas. “My personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores — that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.”

He opened with a traditional greeting of peace used by American Muslims, “assalaamu alaykum.”

As he did during a visit to Turkey in April, Mr. Obama said young people hold the key to change.

“To young people of every faith, in every country — you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world,” he said. “All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort — a sustained effort — to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.”

He said both sides must cast aside long-held prejudices: “Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

He called on all nations and faiths to reject violent extremism in all its forms and used examples of slavery and oppression to say the struggles of so many people can be tied together with the “simple truth that violence is a dead end.”

“It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus,” he said. “That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.”

Going right at the image of America as an occupying force, Mr. Obama said he does not want to keep troops in Afghanistan or establish permanent military bases.

He touted his administration’s plan to increase aid to Pakistan and said the “war of choice” in Iraq would be winding to a close as he removes all combat troops by the end of next summer, a promise that drew loud applause.

“Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible,” said Mr. Obama, who built his presidential candidacy in 2008 on his opposition to the Iraq war.

Mr. Obama also discussed religious tolerance, economic development and stressed the importance of women’s rights by saying they cannot be denied education.

Security was tight in Cairo Thursday. Men stood atop rooftops for miles and attendees had to go through multiple screenings. Cell phone signals were jammed for an unexplained reason and people were not allowed to leave the speech to use the restroom.

Before Mr. Obama delivered the speech, which the administration will promote and spread to millions using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, he met privately with President Hosni Mubarak.

They spoke about Iran and other problems in the region “candidly and frankly without any reservation,” Mr. Mubarak told reporters.

Mr. Obama said the discussion was wide-ranging: “You name it, we discussed it.”

Before leaving Egypt to visit Germany and France, Mr. Obama will tour a mosque and will see the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.

From free text-messaging set up by the State Department to targeting the 20 million Muslims using Twitter abroad, the White House, recalling the presidential campaign’s potent outreach efforts, will use the sites to ensure as many people as possible have access to the speech’s text and ongoing discussion of the event.

“We have a fairly sophisticated, in general, outreach program that uses some of these tools. … I would very much characterize the efforts that are being undertaken here as far broader,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Wednesday. “To not just draw people in to see the speech, but also to discuss it. … There’s a tremendous amount of outreach.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who once blasted Mr. Obama for being naive on the critical national security issues he mentioned, offered her endorsement for his words.

“He set forth a clear challenge to us and all in the world who share (our) hope for peace and security,” she said. “Now we have to get to work to translate that into concrete action.”

• Christina Bellantoni can be reached at 125725@example.com.

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