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Obama: Democracy crucial in Mideast

 Key elements of President Barack Obama’s approach to the Middle East, as outlined in his speech Thursday:

  • Israeli-Palestinian peace: Two states, Israeli and Palestinian, living side by side in peace. Obama said the boundaries of a Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 borders that existed before the Six Day War when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The president allowed for “mutually agreed swaps” of territory. Palestinians would have to agree that their state would not be militarized and would have to show that reconciliation with Hamas, a group declared a terrorist organization by the U.S., does not represent a threat to Israel.

 The president also rejected the Palestinians’ bid to win unilateral statehood before the United Nations and he warned that “Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.”

 Obama took no stand on the future of Israeli-controlled Jerusalem; Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital.

  • Syria: President Bashar Assad, whose regime has been seeking to quell a popular uprising with brutal attacks on the citizenry, can either lead a transition to democracy or, in Obama’s words, “get out of the way.” The Assad regime, Obama said, must permit peaceful protests, release political prisoners and give access to human rights monitors. The administration imposed sanctions on Assad and members of his inner circle this week.

  • Osama bin Laden: Bin Laden’s death, Obama said, is a ‘huge blow” to al-Qaida. Though bin Laden won some adherents, the president said, al-Qaida has lost relevance. The people of the region, Obama added, have come to see the terrorist group’s agenda “as a dead end.”

  • Yemen and Bahrain: Both U.S. allies. Obama reiterated U.S. demands that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh “follow through on his commitment to transfer power.” Demanded that Bahrain halt mass arrests and use of force against protesters and that the government engage in a “dialogue” with the opposition.

  • Egypt and Tunisia: Two countries where uprisings deposed long-standing regimes. Obama said the U.S. has asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit of leading industrial nations that sets a path to stabilize and modernize the economies of both countries. The U.S. will forgive up to $1 billion in Egyptian debt and guarantee another $1 billion to finance infrastructure and new jobs. Obama said he will ask Congress to finance enterprise funds that will provide money for investment in both countries.

  • Libya: Obama said it is costly and difficult to seek to oust a regime by outside military force. But he said Libya was unique because “had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.” He said time is working against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and that the opposition has organized a “legitimate and credible” Interim Council.

  • Iraq: Obama put an encouraging face on changes in Iraq, saying it offers the promise of a multiethnic and multisectarian democracy.

  • Iran: Obama cast Tehran’s leaders as hypocrites who support protests in other countries but repress those at home. He reiterated, but did not dwell on, U.S. opposition to Iran developing a nuclear program.

  • Women: In a step with broad cultural implications, Obama called for universal rights for women in the Mideast, including health care, education, free speech and the right to run for public office. “The region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential,” he said.

Associated Press


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