- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

On the eve of his departure to the Middle East, President Obama said the United States must “follow through” on its promises if it wants an improved relationship with the Muslim world.

“It is important for us to be clear about what we believe will lead to peace - and that there’s not equivocation, and there’s not a sense that we expect only compromise on one side,” the president told National Public Radio Monday in advance of his highly anticipated Thursday speech from Cairo University.

” It’s going to have to be two sided, and I don’t think anybody would deny that in theory,” he said. “When it comes to the concrete, then the politics of it get difficult, both within the Israeli and the Palestinian communities. But look, if this was easy, it would have already been done.”

Mr. Obama also talked about the “special relationship” with Israel, a key element as he plans to talk about Middle East peace plans that he has said are urgent to get underway early in his presidency. He said he wants to see a “new dialogue” encouraged in the region.

“Obviously we are deeply sympathetic to Israel,” he said, adding “What is also true is that part of being a good friend is being honest. And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region, is profoundly negative - not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests.”

The interview aired Monday on All Things Considered and will air Tuesday on Morning Edition.

Mr. Obama also said he does not think the U.S. support for Israel needs to change and repeated his support for a two-state solution between the Jewish state and Palestinians.

“That is going to require that each side - the Israelis and Palestinians - meet their obligations,” he said. “I’ve said very clearly to the Israelis both privately and publicly that a freeze on settlements, including natural growth, is part of those obligations. I’ve said to the Palestinians that their continued progress on security and ending the incitement that, I think, understandably makes the Israelis so concerned, that that has to be - those obligations have to be met. So the key is to just believe that that process can move forward and that all sides are going to have to give. And it’s not going to be an easy path, but one that I think we can achieve.”

The president also took a swipe at former Vice President Dick Cheney saying Mr. Obama’s actions have made the country less safe.

“Well, he also happens to be wrong. Right? And last time, immediately after his speech, I think there was a fact-check on his speech that didn’t get a very good grade,” he said. “Does it make it more complicated?

No, because I think these are complicated issues and there is a legitimate debate to be had about national security. And I don’t doubt the sincerity of the former vice president or the previous administration in wanting to protect the American people. And these are very difficult decisions.”

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