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Middle east

Obama urges 'new beginning' between US and Muslim world


Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2009-06-04

US President Barack Obama has called for "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world" in an address at Cairo University, aiming to restore Washington's tarnished image in the global Islamic community.

Click here for a transcript of Obama's Cairo speech


US President Barack Obama on Thursday called for a "new beginning" in relations between the United States and Muslims across the world.

"So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity," the president said. "This cycle of suspicion and discord must end."

Obama’s landmark speech in Cairo University's domed Great Hall fulfilled a campaign promise, and came on the heels of meetings with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Wednesday and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday.

His trip is aimed at reviving the Middle East peace process and to restore Washington's tainted image among many Muslims around the world.
In what may be a defining moment of his presidency, Obama laid out a new blueprint for US’s Middle East policy, vowing to end mistrust, forge a state for Palestinians, defuse a nuclear showdown with Iran, and promote democratic values and women's rights.

Obama said negative stereotypes of Islam in the US must be fought - but that the fight should be reciprocated by the Muslim world's perception of America.


The first major theme was that of violence and extremism.

Obama pointed out that the US does not wish to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely - but reiterated that his country was a victim of Al Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks, and insisted that the commitment to remain in Afghanistan would not weaken until the extremists had been brought to book.

Saying that Iraq was ultimately "better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein" he reiterated his commitment to pull all troops out of the country by 2012. The US has a dual responsibility "to help Iraq forge a better future and to leave Iraq to Iraqis," he said.

The second major theme was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama stressed that the bond between the US and Israel was "unbreakable", and that denying the Holocaust was "baseless, ignorant and hateful".

But Obama also insisted, to rapturous applause, that "America will not turn its back on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own".

"The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security," he said. "That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest and the world's interest."

He called on Palestinians to renounce violence - and called on Hamas to recognise Israel's right to exist.

But, in an echo of Obama's recent meeting in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he added: "Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's".


"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements... ...It is time for these settlements to stop."

Moving the focus of his speech towards Iran, Obama recognised America's role in the overthrow of a democratically elected government that led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and called for decades of mistrust to be reversed.

He called for the prevention of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East "that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path".

"I understand those that protest that some countries have weapons that others do not," he said. "That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons."

Addressing democracy, Obama insisted that no country should attempt to impose its system of government on another, but called for greater openness and respect for human rights.

"Suppressing ideas never makes them go away," he said. "You must maintain your power through consent, and not through coercion."

Obama continued by calling for greater religious freedom, noting that fault lines in faiths had caused conflict, notably between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

"Faith should bring us together," he told the receptive audience.

Obama also called for women's rights to be respected, both in the Muslim world and in western perceptions of Islamic culture.

"I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who covers her hair is somehow less equal," he said. "But I believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. Our daughters can contribute as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity - men and women - to reach their full potential."

Obama called for an opening of attitudes to the realities of globalisation and promised better educational an innovation partnerships between the Muslim world and the West.

He finished his speech quoting sections of the Koran, the Talmud and the Bible that call for peace, equality and mutual understanding.

Date created : 2009-06-04