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Mon., June 8, 2009, midnight

Outside Voices: Egypt speech a positive step

Newsday, June 5: It was the right message, delivered in the right place by the right messenger. President Barack Obama’s nuanced parsing yesterday of the conflicts and commonalities of Islam and the West was a plain-spoken appeal to ordinary people of all faiths and nationalities for an honest conversation about the way forward. That he traveled to Egypt, a Muslim nation, to give a speech about relations between the United States and the world’s Muslims, added to its power.

By acknowledging the complicity of both the United States and the Muslim world in the problems that bedevil us, and calling on people everywhere who want peace to join in that pursuit, Obama made a bid to marginalize violent extremists. Today, they appear a bit smaller and more out of touch.

In tone and in fact, it’s what the world needed to hear.

Philadelphia Inquirer, June 5: Great speech by President Obama in Cairo. No surprise there. The world is learning, just as Americans have already learned, that the U.S. president is a gifted speaker. Here and abroad, though, observers are reserving judgment on how well he backs up what he says.

Before Obama even got to Egypt, a taped message purportedly from Osama bin Laden was released to the Al-Jazeera TV channel. It blamed Obama for a million refugees in Afghanistan and Pakistan, caused by the fighting there. “Obama has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor in increasing animosity toward Muslims,” said the message.

If the voice was indeed bin Laden’s, the tape served as testimony to the terrorist’s fear of Obama’s ability to persuade Muslims to shun jihadist rhetoric.

And Obama was persuasive.

San Jose Mercury News, June 5: Palestinians are skeptical that Obama will pressure Israel. But his condemnation was unequivocal: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” he said. “It is time for these settlements to stop.”

Obama reaffirmed the U.S. policy for a two-state solution. While stating that America’s historic alliance with Israel is “unbreakable,” he also said the current “situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.” At the same time, he demanded that Hamas put an end to violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. He called on other Arab states to stop using the Israeli conflict to divert attention from their own problems.

Such frankness by a U.S. president respected in the Arab world could break down entrenched positions that have stood in the way of progress.

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