In an interview with Al-Arabiya TV channel, Obama said: "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy - we sometimes make mistakes - we have not been perfect."
He spoke about Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East, Al-Qaeda and Guantanamo Bay Prison. On the Middle East conflict Obama said he believes "that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. "Instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table."
"If we start the steady progress on these issues, I'm absolutely confident that the United States, working in tandem with the European Union, with Russia, with all the Arab states in the region ... can make significant progress," Obama told the Al-Arabiya TV network.
There has been mixed reaction to Obama's interview. While many in the Muslim and Arab world welcomed the interview, some looked at it differently by pointing out that his interview was rich in rhetoric but poor in content. He did not offer any change of policy and failed to mention the Israeli carnage of Gaza while reaffirming America's support to Israel: "I will continue to believe that Israel's security is paramount."
This says a lot to the Arabs and Muslims who have fresh memories of the US-backed 22-day Israeli carnage in Gaza that massacred about 1400 Palestinians, of whom 412 were children and a hundred were women. More than 5,000 were injured, 1,855 of whom were children and 795 were women, according to UN sources.
A reader of Lebanon's The Star newspaper described the interview a window dressing: "The fact that Obama gave this interview to the house media of Saudi sheiks and the Egyptian dictator (some "moderates"!) shows that he is insincere. The Arab masses watch and believe in Al Jazeera. By choosing to grant the interview to this State Department allied media company he gave an unmistakable message; he talks only to the discredited Arab elites."
"We have to lower our expectations that he has a magic wand to solve all our problems," Reuters quoted a Mideast analyst, Mustafa Alani, as saying. "The Arab attitude is basically optimistic that Obama will turn a new page and his inaugural speech reached out to Muslims but the devil is in the details."
"I heard Obama, his tone is different, but I can't believe that any U.S. president can be different when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict," Haytham Rafati, in Ramallah told the Associated Press. "I will believe Obama is different in his approach to the Islamic world only when I see him pulling out his forces from Iraq and pressing Israel on the Palestinian rights."
At least 100 comments were listed on Al-Arabiya TV website about Obama's interview, most of them welcoming his new approach to the Muslim World but many did not see anything new. The following comment perhaps represents the sentiments of those who do not see any change in Obama's policies:
"So now Obama expected us to believe that the US is not the enemy and thus we should forget about the millions of dead souls and years of death and destruction at the hands of the Americans directly or through proxy. He was saying: Muslims are not the enemy, it is only Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran that we are trying to "isolate". My response to him: America is not the enemy, it is only the US Military, the CIA and their proxies that we are trying to get off our backs. The most ridiculous item in his speech is that while he was trying to please Israel in every step of the speech, he adds insults to injuries by trying to divide Muslims and splitting hairs by telling us whom we should support and whom we should not. To me it is the same old sh*t."
Obama's Al-Arabiya TV interview came five days after he signed an executive order to close down the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. That order was one of three the President signed on that day. Another formally bans torture by U.S. interrogators, and the third establishes an interagency task force to set policies for the "apprehension, detention, trial, transfer or release of detainees." These orders were signed on the first day of his office (January 22) when he also called President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud 'Abbas first, followed by calls to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, President Mubarak of Egypt, and Jordan's King Abdullah.
On his second day (January 23), the President named former Senator George Mitchell, an Arab American and the architect of the peace accord in Northern Ireland, as special envoy to the Middle East. He also appointed Richard Holbrooke as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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