Egypt Picked as Stage for Obama Talk to Muslims; Will 'Extend a Hand' to Improve Relations

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 9, 2009 | Go to article overview

Egypt Picked as Stage for Obama Talk to Muslims; Will 'Extend a Hand' to Improve Relations


Byline: Christina Bellantoni and Barbara Slavin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Obama next month will travel to Egypt to address the world's Muslims in a major speech, seeking to strengthen U.S. relations with the Islamic world and fight extremism, the White House said Friday.

Mr. Obama chose Egypt as the venue for the long-promised speech, to be delivered June 4, because the country in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

He said a city had not been chosen yet.

Mr. Gibbs said the president in his remarks will extend a hand to those that in many ways are like us, but just simply have a different religion.

Our hope is not to draw a large crowd, but our hope is to reach a large portion of the world with what we hope is a powerful message, Mr. Gibbs said.

The president's trip will include a visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, which Mr. Obama's great-uncle helped to liberate during World War II. He also will join world leaders in France to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy, France.

Ziad al-Asali, a prominent Arab-American and president of the American Task Force on Palestine, predicted in December that Mr. Obama would choose Egypt because of its central role in Islam and the Arab world and its status as the first Arab country to make peace with Israel. Mr. al-Asali said the site sends a signal that the Obama administration is committed to an Arab-Israeli peace deal.

Egypt for years has served as a back-channel for the United States to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and, in a more open capacity, has provided training for Palestinian security services.

Despite the 1979 peace accord, Egypt's relations with Israel have not always been smooth.

From time to time, Egypt has withdrawn its ambassadors from Tel Aviv, and in the past three years, Israeli leaders have charged that Egypt has failed to control weapons and aid smuggled into Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Egypt also strongly supports proposals for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, a policy that would likely compel Israel to admit to its strategic nuclear arsenal. As The Washington Times reported Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be seeking a reaffirmation of the 40-year understanding between the United States and Israel on the latter's nuclear arsenal in his upcoming meeting with Mr. Obama.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Egypt was the logical place for Mr. Obama to give the highly touted speech because it has a disproportionate voice in Islam. It has led both in the scholarship and in the malevolent movements that have spread off from Islam.

He predicted the speech would be personal in tone.

This is something [Mr. Obama] has wanted to do - not staff-driven or consultant-driven - much like his race speech in Philadelphia. As someone who partly grew up in a Muslim country, Obama was profoundly affected by the tension between the U.S. and the Muslim world after Sept. …

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Egypt Picked as Stage for Obama Talk to Muslims; Will 'Extend a Hand' to Improve Relations
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