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US: Obama reaches out to Muslim world

President Barack Obama stresses cooperation with the European Union, Russia and Arab states in reaching Gaza peace settlement in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

By Masood Haider

NEW YORK --- US President Barack Obama told the Muslim world on Tuesday that "Americans are not your enemy" and urged the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. He also offered an olive branch to Iranian leaders if they "unclenched their fist".

In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV channel, President Obama said the Israel-Palestine conflict should not be seen in isolation.

"I do think it is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what's happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan," Mr Obama said.

"My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives," Mr Obama said.

"But if you look at the track record...America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that."

President Obama was asked about the highly personal tone of recent Al Qaeda messages released since his election in November. He agreed with the interviewer that the tone of recent videos seemed "nervous".

"What that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt," he said.

The partial transcript of the interview was available on websites of Al-Arabiya TV the White House and The New York Times.

It was obvious that Mr Obama, who has promised to directly address Middle East questions at the start of his presidency rather than wait for years like his predecessor George W. Bush, did not want expectations raised too high for swift progress for Middle East peace, following the Israeli war against Gaza.

But he said he believed "that the moment is ripe for both sides to realise that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people".

"Instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table."

Mr Obama had earlier met new US Mideast envoy George Mitchell at the White House along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mr Mitchell left Tuesday for a mission to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, London and Paris.

"If we start the steady progress on these issues, I'm absolutely confident that the United States, working in tandem with the European Union, with Russia, with all the Arab states in the region -- I'm absolutely certain that we can make significant progress," Mr Obama said.

He also said in the interview that the United States would in the next few months lay out a general framework of policy towards Tehran.

Date Posted: 1/27/2009

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