In his first interview since taking office, President Barack Obama told Arab satellite station Al Arabiya that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world and said Israel and the Palestinians should resume peace negotiations.
“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” Obama told Al Arabiya’s Hisham Melhem in an interview broadcast Tuesday morning.
During the presidential election campaign last year, Obama vowed to improve U.S. ties with the Muslim world and after he won promised to give a speech in a Muslim capital in his first 100 days in office. The President repeated this pledge in the interview but did not give a time or specify the venue.
The President repeated a pledge to address the Muslim world from a major Islamic city
Obama pointed out that he had lived in the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia for several years while growing up, and said his travels through Muslim countries had convinced him that regardless of faith, people had certain common hopes and dreams.
In the interview, Obama called for resumed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and said his administration wanted to begin by listening and talking to all parties involved in the conflict without prejudging their concerns.
He also praised Saudi King Abdulla for putting forward an Arab peace plan and said his administration would adopt a more extensive and regional approach in its relationship with the Muslim world.
“[W]e are ready to initiated a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest,” said Obama, noting that only then can progress be achieved.
Obama, who took office a week ago, said he had already begun to fulfill the promises he made during his campaign by naming former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell as his Middle East peace envoy and sending him to the region within days of becoming president. Mitchell arrived in the region Monday evening on the start of a nine day tour.
Although Obama expressed support for a contiguous Palestinian state, he hedged on specifying when or with what borders.
“I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state – I’m not going to put a time frame on it – that is contiguous,” the president told Al Arabiya.
Obama reiterated America’s support to Israel and the “paramount” importance of the Jewish state’s security, making no mention of the suffering of Palestinians, the Gaza war, or the continuing Israeli blockade of the beleaguered territory.
Prior to his Jan. 20 inauguration Obama had remained silent about his views on the 22-day Israeli offensive in Gaza that left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead.
He also reiterated his promise to withdraw troops from Iraq, close the infamous Guantanamo prison and respect the rule of law.
Breaking with his predecessor George W. Bush, who had a penchant for adopting terms like Islamofacism and crusade that heightened tensions with the Muslim world, Obama underscored the importance of language and repeated the importance of listening as a part of communication.
“[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he said.
“[T]he language we use matters,” he continued. “We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Yet his continuing silence on the enormous amount of civilian casualties during the Israeli offensive and accusations by the U.N. and humanitarian organizations that Israel committed war crimes also spoke volumes to an audience that has waited for America to take a more balanced approach to the conflict.