Obama Reaches out to Muslims, Middle East; Calls for a 'New Way Forward' in Foreign Policy amid Mix of Cheers, Skepticism in Region

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 21, 2009 | Go to article overview

Obama Reaches out to Muslims, Middle East; Calls for a 'New Way Forward' in Foreign Policy amid Mix of Cheers, Skepticism in Region


Byline: Dale Gavlack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

AMMAN, Jordan -- The world watched Tuesday as the United States inaugurated a new president, perhaps nowhere with as much anticipation and divided emotion as in the Middle East.

In his speech, President Obama made a special point of reaching out to the world's Muslims, many of whom rejected his predecessor's policies for causing chaos and suffering in Iraq and failing to bring peace and statehood to the Palestinians.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect, Mr. Obama said.

Amman shopkeeper Farouk abu-Zeid told The Washington Times that the turning of the page on the Bush administration couldn't come soon enough.

We faced so much trouble during President Bush's term, but now we're looking forward to President Obama to do something to improve things, whether peace in the region or the global financial crisis, the 56-year-old merchant said.

He should be nice to our area, Mr. abu-Zeid said. Let people live in peace. This is all we want, especially for Palestine and Iraq. A Palestinian doctor in Amman also expressed hope that Mr. Obama could end the region's chronic conflicts.

President Obama wants to replace the gun with dialogue, Jihad Barghouti said. Arabs, both ordinary people and their leaders, should stop their defiance and insults of the U.S. administration and the American people. 'Yes, we can' must be the way forward for us all, he said.

Others were more skeptical.

Yes, President Obama is bright, charismatic and capable, but the extent that he can make change is very limited, said Amr Baytaneh, 45, a Jordanian businessman.

Maybe there will be a breakthrough with Iran, he said, but to what degree do you think Israel will permit an opening with the Islamic Republic?

At the Husn Palestinian refugee camp in northern Jordan, pessimism was also the rule.

Yes, the president has changed, but U.S. policy in the Mideast will remain the same, said camp resident Salim Shuifat, following a fiery rally in support of Gaza on Tuesday in which hundreds burned Israeli flags to protest the deaths of more than 1,200 Palestinians.

The U.S. has blindly supported Israel and has permitted massive death and destruction on helpless victims in Gaza, he said.

In Israel, media outlets pushed aside coverage of the fragile cease-fire with Hamas to follow the U.S. inauguration.

Political analysts debated what the Obama Mideast policy would be and said it was not coincidence that Israel ended the Gaza offensive two days before Mr. Obama took office.

Avi Bar, 30, a political consultant, gathered with Israeli and American friends in a downtown Tel Aviv apartment to watch the inauguration over cupcakes, hotdogs and apple pie.

We sat here, a bunch of 10 people and we thought, 'Good for America.' You know how on the West Wing the president is well spoken and well read? That's Obama. We feel America is going to be a good leader. And if America is strong, it's good for us. Asked if he was worried that Mr. Obama would keep his campaign promise and open a dialogue with Iran, Mr. Bar said, It's good trying to talk to your enemies. He will talk first, and when the time comes to take action, he'll take it.

In Tehran, for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian state-run TV broadcast a U.S. presidential inauguration and interviewed Iranians after the Obama speech.

A middle-aged man wearing a simple jacket said he was not surprised that Mr. Obama had not specifically mentioned the Israeli offensive against Gaza.

But another younger Tehrani said, At least he is not aggressive in his talk as Bush used to be. The two countries have had no diplomatic relations for three decades and some Iranians hope their government will have a harder time demonizing an Obama administration than the Bush team - and vice versa. …

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