President Barack Obama on Monday renewed his commitment to a "new beginning" with the Muslim world, vowing no let-up in US efforts to promote Middle East peace, curb militant violence and boost economic development.
Seeking to build on his outreach to Muslims in a speech in Cairo last June, Obama used a US-hosted Muslim business conference to underscore what his administration has done so far and to pledge further work to overcome mistrust.
While Obama has made progress toward mending America's image in the Islamic world, he still faces stiff challenges in his handling of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the nuclear standoff with Iran and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I knew that this vision would not be fulfilled in a single year, or even several. But I knew we had to begin and that all of us have responsibilities to fulfill," Obama told the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.
Obama at summit Monday (Photo: AP)
But, speaking to an audience of 250 business people from more than 50 countries, Obama also waded into some of the hot-button issues between Washington and the Muslim world that he acknowledged "have often been a source of tension."
Many Muslims are especially disappointed by Obama's failure so far to advance Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking despite promising in his first days in office to make it a high priority.
He assured his audience he would not abandon US diplomatic efforts, which have been stymied by a dispute with Israel over Jewish settlement building and divisions among the Palestinians.
"Despite the inevitable difficulties, so long as I am president, the United States will never waver in our pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians," Obama pledged. But he offered no new initiative to revive long-stalled peace talks.
Obama also asserted that the United States was "responsibly ending" the war in Iraq and "in Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond, we're forging new partnerships to isolate violent extremists, combat corruption and foster the development that improves lives and communities."
Delivering on a promise
The two-day conference sought to deliver on a promise Obama made in his Cairo speech, in which he pledged to do more to boost economic development and bolster US business ties with the Muslim world.
"There's so much more we can do together, in partnership, to foster opportunity and prosperity in all our countries," Obama said as he sought to focus more on talking about doing business together.
He announced a series of efforts, including exchange programs for women in technology and for high tech leaders from Silicon Valley to share their expertise, said his global technology and innovation fund would "potentially mobilize" more than $2 billion in private capital.
"The new beginning we seek is not only possible, it has already begun," Obama said, echoing the language of his Cairo speech.
"It exists within each of you, and millions around the world who believe, like we do, that the future belongs not to those who would divide us, but to those who come together; not to those who would destroy, but those who would build."
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke challenged the entrepreneurs to take "the tremendous success that all of you have had individually and expand it throughout the Islamic world."
In addition to Locke, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior US officials will participate in sessions alongside private sector experts like Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang, Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus and Arif Naqvi, head of Abraaj Capital, the largest private equity firm in the Middle East.