5 Jun 2009

Obama seeks "new beginning" with Muslims

8:24 am on 5 June 2009

US President Barack Obama has called for a "new beginning" in ties between Washington and the Islamic world a his speech that also tackled grievances over two US-led wars and tensions over Iran.

Addressing the world's more than one billion Muslims from Cairo, he urged Arabs and Israelis to declare in public the realities he said they accept in private.

Mr Obama said he did not want US troops to stay in Iraq or Afghanistan forever and offered mutual respect in seeking to resolve differences with long-time foe, Tehran.

"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," Obama said in the address that included quotes from Islam's holy book, the Koran.

"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."

"This cycle of suspicion and discord must end," he said.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Mr Obama, who wants to build a coalition of Muslim governments to back his diplomatic moves, affirmed his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it was in the interest of all concerned parties.

He said Palestinians had to abandon violence and urged them to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. He also said Israel should stop building settlements in the West Bank.

"It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true," Obama said, adding Washington would "say in public what we say in private" and told others to follow suit.

Palestinian official Nabil Abu Rdainah said: "President Obama's speech is a good start and an important step towards a new American policy."

Israel responded by saying it shared President Obama's hopes for Middle East peace but Israel's security interests remained paramount. The official statement made no mention of Jewish settlements nor Palestinian statehood.


President Obama said Iran should have access to peaceful atomic power, but must adhere to nuclear non-proliferation.

"(This) is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path," Obama said.

Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said before Obama spoke that America was "deeply hated" and only action, not "slogans," could change that.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in a message on a website, warned Muslims against alliance with Christians and Jews, saying it would annul their faith.