Obama urges new start with Muslims
In historic Cairo speech, US president says together American and Muslims can confront violent extremism across globe, advance timeless search for peace in Middle East. Obama refers to bond between US and Israel as 'unbreakable', but adds 'situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable'
"This cycle of suspicion and discord must end," Obama said in a widely anticipated speech in one of the world's largest Muslim countries, an address designed to reframe relations after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq.
In a gesture, Obama conceded at the beginning of his remarks that tension "has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations."
"And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear," he said.
At the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse. "Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire."
Cairo greets Obama (Photo: AFP)
He went on to say that violent extremists have exploited tensions between Muslims and the West, and that Islam was not part of the problem but part of promoting peace.
"Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims," Obama said in a speech prepared for delivery in Cairo, saying the United States and Islam "need not be in competition."
'2-state solution only answer for Mideast'
Obama said he would "personally pursue" a two-state solution as the only way to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he said. He also said any nation, including Iran, had the right to peaceful nuclear power "if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
"But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path," he said.
He said the Israelis and Palestinians must find a way to live side by side, peacefully as two independent states, arguing that this solution ultimately is the only way to end bloodshed and violence.
Obama recognized the long US alliance with Israel, calling the bond "unbreakable." But he also said "the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable."
Addressing the Holocaust, the American president said, "Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust... Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
"On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation... America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."
He said America will support any efforts by any parties that recognize the legitimate aspirations of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Obama said the "United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements." And he called on Palestinians, particularly the Hamas faction, to "abandon violence" and recognize Israel's right to exist.
As for Jerusalem, he said it should be a "secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims ..." Obama also said the Arab nations should no longer use the conflict with Israel to distract its own people from other problems.
Obama said the United States did not want to keep its troops in Afghanistan and did not seek military bases there.
"Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there," Obama said in a speech prepared for delivery.
"We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case," Obama said.
Obama said that Iraq was "a war of choice", and that it reminded the United States of the need to use diplomacy and consultation to resolve problems.
Obama spoke at Cairo University after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the second stop of a four-nation trip to the Middle East and Europe.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report