US President Barack Obama
Photo: AP
Obama to reach out to Muslims in Egypt speech
Event to fulfill Obama campaign promise to speak to Muslims from Muslim city, but some take issue with choice of Egypt; Amnesty Int'l says content of speech more important than location, stresses focus should be on Israeli-Palestinian issue, human rights violations in region

US President Barack Obama will deliver a much anticipated speech to the Muslim world in Egypt next month, seeking to repair ties that were severely damaged under his predecessor George W. Bush.


Many Arab and Muslim nations were angered by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo, abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Bush's policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which they believed was biased in favor of Israel.


White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Friday the speech would be delivered in Egypt on June 4 but did not say whether it would be in the Egyptian capital Cairo.


During the same trip, Obama will visit Europe, travelling to Normandy in France to attend events marking the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings by Allied forces that led to the end of World War Two. He will also go to the German city of Dresden and the Buchenwald concentration camp, Gibbs said.


Obama's Egypt trip fulfills a promise he made during his presidential campaign to give a major address to Muslims from a Muslim city during his first few months in office. However, some participants in the news conference took issue with the choice of country.


'Address Israeli-Palestinian issues and human rights violations'

While Egypt has been a key partner for Washington in decades of efforts to secure Middle East peace, many criticized the choice because of the country's poor human rights record, which could potentially overshadow the substance of Obama's speech.


"It is a country that in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world," Gibbs said, in response to comments.


"The scope of the speech, the desire for the president to speak (to the Muslim world), is bigger than where the speech was going to be given or who's the leadership of the country where the speech is going to be given," he said.


Amnesty International, who has raised concerns about human rights violations in Egypt in the past, said it had no problem with Obama's choice of Egypt. The organization stressed that the US president should address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and human rights concerns in the Muslim world.


"I would say speak about his commitment to being fair on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and talk about the importance of free speech and assembly in the Arab and Muslim world, which unfortunately are very low," said Zahir Janmohamed, Amnesty's advocacy director for the Middle East.


Obama has made many efforts to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world since taking office. During his inauguration speech he said that the US seeks "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect" and that the US is willing to "extend a hand if (the Muslim world is) willing to unclench your fist."


Shortly afterwards, Obama chose an Arab station, Al Arabiya, to give his first formal TV interview. He also called for peace and dialogue with Islam in a speech to Turkey's parliament on his first presidential visit to the Muslim world in April.


Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to this article


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