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Pres. Obama Seeks to Clear Arab Distrust of US

Posted June. 05, 2009 08:06,   


Excitement and expectation yesterday filled Cairo University in Egypt, where U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to some 900 reporters and students.

Obama’s message to the Arab world, which carries significant meaning for relations between the United States and the Islamic world, will be the highlight of his first visit to the Middle East as president.

Obama will urge the Islamic world to improve relations with Washington, which have deteriorated since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and seek mutual respect and cooperation. Attention is on if his appeal can bring reconciliation with Islamic countries, which have viewed the United States as their foe.

○ ‘We are not enemies’

Obama will reportedly stress that the United States and Islamic countries share the same hopes and dreams and can realize them together. He will also distance himself from predecessor George W. Bush by saying Washington wants a different relationship with the Arab world.

Obama will also express his willingness to take the lead in laying a bridge to strengthen bilateral trust.

Sensitive issues such as the human rights of Muslim prisoners in the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, and the war in Afghanistan will also be mentioned.

Obama’s speech will be broadcast live across the world. To reach out to the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims, the White House will translate the speech into 13 languages and distribute it to more than 200 countries through Web sites such as Facebook and Google.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, however, warned against excessive expectations, saying, “One speech cannot solve all problems.”

Nevertheless, Obama is said to have paid careful attention to the content and wordings of his speech considering the direction of U.S. policy toward the Middle East, according to the Los Angeles Times.

White House speechwriter Ben Rhodes said the president carried a draft speech with him over the past week and kept revising it.

Obama is known to be determined to use the speech as a turning point for mending fences with the Middle East. This determination stems from his judgment that things will get better after mutual trust, prejudice and grudges are cleared up.

In Saudi Arabia Wednesday, the first leg of his Middle East trip, Obama said he is ready to learn about Islam, saying, “I thought that visiting the cradle of Islamic civilization in person is very important.”

○ Eloquent speeches that changed history

Speeches delivered by U.S. presidents have often turned situations around and impressed countries that were viewed as enemies. A case in point is a speech by President John F. Kennedy in Berlin, Germany, in 1963.

At a time when U.S. relations with Eastern Europe were at their lowest point in the Cold War era, Kennedy said, “There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the communist world. Let them come to Berlin.”

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan said in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, “(Soviet Union) General Secretary (Mikhail) Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.”

Two years after this historic speech, the Berlin Wall collapsed.