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article imageObama Talks With Arab TV, Promising Respect for Muslims

By Joan Firstenberg     Jan 27, 2009 in World
President Barack Obama grants his first formal television interview to an Arab station, saying he will use 'respectful' language when talking about Muslims, because he himself has Muslim members of his family, and has lived in Muslim countries.
Barack Obama chose to do his first formal television interview as president Monday with a correspondent from al-Arabiya, the Dubai-based satellite network. It is one of the largest English-language TV operations aimed at Arabs. Obama used words to address his audience that had not been heard in many years from an American President...words like "respect".
"If America is ready to initiate a new partnership [with the Muslim world] based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress."
The president did the interview at the White House, moments after dispatching George J. Mitchell, his special envoy for Middle East peace, to the region.
Much of the interview was spent defining what the new approach that the United States would implement in that region will be: respectfulness over divisiveness, listening over dictating, and engagement over militarism.
But Mr. Obama had this to say about terrorist organizations
"Their ideas are bankrupt. There's no actions that they've taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them."
The President expressed optimism during the interview about the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but he also reiterated U.S. support for Israel, calling it a "strong ally of the United States and saying he continues to "believe that Israel's security is paramount." Obama noted that any peace accord between the two will take time and require new thinking about the problems of the Middle East as a whole.
"All too often the United States starts by dictating -- in the past on some of these issues -- and we don't always know all the factors that are involved. So let's listen. He (George Mitchell) is going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response."
Mitchell will travel to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and England. He also hopes to go to Istanbul, the site of talks between Israel and Syria, The State Department says he will be on the road until February 3.
Obama's tone during the interview was starkly different from his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was often critical and negative. By contrast, Obama went out of his way to be conciliatory.
"Now, my 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. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries,"
And he repeated a portion of his inaugural address, saying, he plans to reach out to Muslims around the world who are willing to "unclench your fist" but will go after terrorists who continue to be bent on destruction.
President Obama also said that the U.S. must be "willing to talk to Iran" and that he would lay out a "framework" for those discussions over the next several months.
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