/ 4 June 2009

Obama calls for new beginning between US, Muslims

Read President Barack Obama’s full speech

President Barack Obama sought a ”new beginning” between the United States and the Muslim world on Thursday, but offered no new initiative to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, an omission likely to disappoint many.

”We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate,” the US president said in a major speech at Cairo University.

”I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect,” he said. ”America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.”

Obama’s speech was an effort to restore the tarnished US image among many of the more than one billion Muslims around the world, damaged by former president George Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the treatment of US military detainees.

It coincided with the release of new remarks by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden aimed at trying to undermine his message.

Bin Laden told Muslims that alliances with Christians and Jews would annul their faith and urged them to fight Western allies in Muslim countries.

The choice of Cairo for the speech underscored Obama’s focus on the Middle East, where he faces huge foreign policy challenges, from trying to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to curbing Iran’s nuclear programme.

Obama, who is hoping to build a coalition of Muslim governments to back his diplomatic moves, offered no new proposals to advance the Middle East peace process, saying Palestinians ”must abandon violence” and urging them acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

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

Before the speech, the US president met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

”We discussed how to move forward in a constructive way to bring peace and prosperity to people in the region,” Obama told reporters after the talks with Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981 and kept a tight lid on opposition. — Reuters