Obama speaks to Muslims

June 4, 2009 12:00 am

, CAIRO, June 4 – President Barack Obama on Thursday vowed to forge a "new beginning" for Islam and America in a landmark speech to global Muslims, evoking a vision of peace after smouldering years of "suspicion and discord."

In what may be a defining moment of his presidency, Obama laid out a new blueprint for US Middle East policy, vowing to buckle mistrust, forge a state for Palestinians and defuse a nuclear showdown with Iran.

In the domed Great Hall of Cairo University, Obama warned the US bond with Israel, the source of much Arab distrust of the United States, was unbreakable, and rejected "ignorant" rants by those who deny the Nazi Holocaust.

But, in a sharp break from the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama also rebuked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to halt settlement expansion on the West Bank.

"I have come here to Cairo seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," Obama said in a speech targeting the globe’s 1.5 billion Muslims on television, the Internet and on social networking sites.

"So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace," said Obama, who was greeted with a standing ovation as he stepped up to the podium.

Letting divides fester would "promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity," he said.

"This cycle of suspicion and discord must end," said Obama vowing to fight "negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

"But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America," he said.

Quoting the region’s three holy books, the Koran, the Torah and the Bible, he evoked a future of "mutual interest and mutual respect.

The US president, laying out a staggeringly ambitious foreign policy, to match the audacity of his sweeping domestic program, spoke directly, and without adornment on the chasms between America and global Muslims.

Specifically targeting young Muslims, perhaps not bound to past traditions, Obama said "I know there are many — Muslim and non Muslim — who question whether we can forge this new beginning."

"Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn’t worth the effort — that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash.

"There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward."

Obama called on Israelis and Palestinians to revive stalled peace talks, demanding Palestinians halt violence and Israelis to ease the plight of those trapped in the occupied territories.

"Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed."

"America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own," Obama said.

He called on both sides to live up to obligations under the stalled "roadmap" for Middle East peace.

"Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s," he said.

"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

The US president also renewed his offer for dialogue with arch-US foe Iran, over, after a decades-long Cold War style conflict.

"It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve," Obama said.

"But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point.

"This is not simply about Americas 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."

Obama also weaved his own biography, with Islamic lineage among family members in Kenya, and several years growing up as a boy in Indonesia, into his search to pick out a new path for the United States and Islam.

He also warned that faced with Islamic extremism, the United States would "never tolerate" violence, citing the trauma of the September 11 attacks in 2001, though saying his country lost its way with harsh war on terror tactics.

"The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer," said Obama, who also proposed a series of new initiatives to promote health, education and investment in Muslim communities.




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