- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

President Obama, taking the next steps he promised in his address to the Muslim world, spoke Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to outline the goals he mentioned in the speech and deployed his special envoy to the region.

The men spoke 20 minutes about the speech. Mr. Obama told Mr. Netanyahu that he “looked forward to hearing the prime minister’s upcoming speech outlining his views on peace and security,” the White House said, calling the talk “constructive.”

Mr. Netanyahu will speak next week about his own vision for Middle East peace and policy. He is expected to focus on Iran and Syria.

The White House suggested that Mr. Obama’s speech in Cairo could be linked to high voter turnout in Sunday’s elections in Lebanon.

“I think the president was pretty clear in Cairo about the importance of elections,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “I think people can be heartened that turnout far exceeded the last election.”

Mr. Obama said the election results are “the strongest indications yet of the Lebanese desire for security and prosperity.”

The Lebanese people, he said, “have demonstrated to the world their courage and the strength of their commitment to democracy.”

The president has said he views the speech from Cairo University as part of a continuing dialogue on peace and that he doesn’t expect immediate results.

Middle East envoy George Mitchell begins his fourth trip to the region Tuesday with a stop in Israel.

Mr. Obama told regional reporters from the Middle East that his Cairo speech was not addressed to violent extremists and that he doesn’t expect to change minds of al Qaeda members.

He said he instead was reaching out to a 20-year-old man or woman in the poorest parts of Cairo, Gaza, Damascus or Tripoli “who is still searching, is still looking for a way.”

Observers of the struggle for Middle East peace said the goal is admirable but results will matter.

“The key to this is going to be real, solid, serious follow-up leading to tangible change those 20-year-olds can see, to show there is a future there will have to be action. Otherwise, it’s just going to be a speech,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of J Street, a pro-Israel and pro-peace political action committee. “If rockets continue and settlements continue to grow and there is no path to a viable Palestinian state, it will have been just words. That’s why the follow-up to this speech is so critical.”

Mr. Ben-Ami called the speech “tremendous” and said Mr. Obama is setting the right tone by insisting that Israel cease settlement activity.

Malik Prabu, an American Muslim living in Michigan, said he got goosebumps when hearing Mr. Obama cite the Koran during the speech, and appreciated he weaved Arabic greetings into the delivery.

Mr. Prabu, whose family is from India and he grew up in Dubai, was one of the nearly 1 million people who watched the speech on YouTube.

“It was a great, inspiring speech, he did a good job connecting with people, [but] he never gives a solution in his speech,” said Mr. Prabu, 31, who voted for Mr. Obama.

He said the president had the right tone by adding a “peace be upon him” after using Muhammad’s name, as a Muslim would.

“That shows he really connected,” Mr. Prabu said, adding he did not think Mr. Obama offered much substance for how he would achieve the goals he outlined.

“Talk is great but putting that speech in action is something I would like to see,” Mr. Prabu said. “Such as troops out of Iraq by 2010, Guantanamo Bay closed, focus on education throughout the world, exchange students, end nuclear power conflicts. Above all, I would also like to see that he does something about Palestine.”

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, said Mr. Obama is wise to reach out to moderates and young people.

“Islam is this glorious religion that has been hijacked by a cadre of extremists and fanatics, and he is attempting to strengthen the voice of moderation within Islam,” he said.

The White House pointed reporters to an online poll by Maktoob Research for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S.-funded broadcast networks, showing that 75 percent of Muslims surveyed had a positive opinion of the speech.

*Photographs and videos from President Obamas trip to the Middle East and Europe can be viewed at WashingtonTimes.com.

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