Barack Obama tells the Middle East: 'Americans are not your enemy'

Posted in United States , Broader Middle East , Religion and Politics | 27-Jan-09 | Source: Times Online

US President Barack Obama sits with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mideast Envoy George Mitchell (right) in Washington.

US President Barack Obama has told the Muslim world that "Americans are not your enemy" and renewed his pledge to travel to make an address in the capital of a major Muslim nation.

In his first interview with Arab television since becoming president, Mr Obama told the al-Arabiya television that his administration would adopt a more comprehensive approach in its relations with the Muslim world.

He also said that Israel and the Palestinians should resume their peace negotiations and he praised Saudi King Abdullah for putting forward an Arab plan for peace in the Middle East.

"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 told the Dubai-based Arabic cable TV channel. "These things are interrelated."

Mr Obama said his administration had begun to fulfil his campaign promises by naming former US Senator George Mitchell as a Mideast peace envoy and sending him to the region within days of his becoming president. Mr Mitchell was travelling to the region on Monday evening.

"Ultimately we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what is best for them. They are going to have to make some decisions," Mr Obama said.

"But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table."

The President noted that he had lived in Indonesia for several years while growing up, and said his travels through Muslim nations had convinced him that regardless of faith, people had certain common hopes and dreams.

"My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy - we sometimes make mistakes - we have not been perfect," 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."

During the 2008 election campaign, Mr Obama vowed to improve US ties with the Muslim world and said he would travel to a major Islamic forum abroad to send that message.

"We're going to follow through on our commitment for me to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital," Mr Obama said.

"We are going to follow through on many of my commitments to do a more effective job of reaching out, listening as well as speaking to the Muslim world."

Mr Obama did not give a time or a venue for his visit to a major Muslim capital.

He was also asked about the highly personal tone of recent al-Qaeda messages released since he was elected president in November.

He agreed with his interviewer that the tone of recent videos seemed "nervous."

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