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June 4, 2009

President Obama in Cairo, Egypt: Time For A “New beginning between the United States and Muslims”

Egypt Obama

This morning at 6:10 am EST President Obama made brilliant history yet again and Americans should be proud because we made progress with Muslims worldwide today.

After years of American and Middle East tension where we mutually viewed each other in a not so friendly manner, today the Egypt state broadcasting service was beaming uplifting scenes of the American and Egyptian flags flying side by side and Obama’s smiling face superimposed over graphics of the Pyramids and local landmarks. An image of the Egyptian and American flags woven together in a yin and yang fashion was kept on the screen of Egypt State TV throughout the morning.  That by itself is absolutely incredible!

Speaking in the ancient seat of Islamic learning and culture and quoting from the Quran for emphasis, President Obama called for a ‘new beginning between the United States and Muslims’, and said together, we can confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East. ‘This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,’ Obama said

By President Obama making his much anticipated speech in the Grand Hall of Cairo University in downtown Cairo instead of heading to the Sinai beach resorts where diplomatic gatherings are often held, he told the people of Egypt that he was serious about connecting on a personal level. And when he peppered his speech with words from the Koran, and balanced support for Israel but with a strong call for a Palestinian state, the deal was closed. Home run!!!

American European Activists Demostrate for Peace in Gaza

President Obama was blunt about the United States “unbreakable bonds” with Israel but promptly stated that Palestinian was “suffering” since Israel’s founding in 1948 and that there was a real and immediate need to curb Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and establish a secure Palestinian state.

President Obama acknowledged the negative stereotypes of Islam that took root in America after the 9/11 terrorist attacks but also said that Muslim nations need to fix their own exaggerated views of the United States as a country bent on dominating them.

The history of the relationship between America and Muslim communities is deep and complex. 

Thomas Jefferson taught himself Arabic using his own Quran kept in his personal library, and had the first known presidential Iftaar (the evening meal for breaking the daily fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan) by breaking fast with the Tunisian Ambassador at sunset.   

President Dwight Eisenhower attended the dedication ceremony of the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 1957. 

President Bill Clinton issued the first presidential greeting for Ramadan.  Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting in which participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from true dawn until sunset. Fasting is meant to teach patience, sacrifice and humility. President Clinton appointed the first Muslim American ambassador, M. Osman Siddique, to Fiji, and sent the first presidential Eid al-Adha greeting to Muslims.  Eid al-Adha or the “Festival of Sacrifice” is a religious festival celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. 

One year after President George W. Bush placed the Holy Quran in the White House library in 2005, Representative Keith Ellison took the oath of office on the same Quran owned by Thomas Jefferson two hundred years before.

With his speech in Cairo, President Obama laid another marker, addressing America’s relationship with the Muslims around the world right in the heart of the Middle East.  Past years and decades have deepened the rift in our relationship with Muslims worldwide but particularly in the Middle East and our President have now created a new start by opening up a serious, honest dialogue hoping to find areas of common interest and new ways of communication in areas where we don’t agree. 

By continuing unprecedented outreach to Muslim communities, the President is strengthening national security and opening up new opportunities to address some of the problems that have been problematic over recent years.

Well done President Obama!

President Obama’s Cairo speech:

Cairo Palestinian boys in Gaza Strip Rafah watch President Obama Cairo U  Palestinian boys in Gaza Strip town of Rafah watch President Obama speak at Cairo University.

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February 26, 2009

President Obama’s Diplomacy At Work

I am so impressed with the amount of work that’s being accomplished simultaneously for the American people by the Obama administration.  This team have only been office for 5 weeks and look at all they have accomplished – impressive!

President Obama’s management style and approach has already made a world of difference in the way America is viewed, feared and respected. 

Three years ago President George W. Bush could barely get the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan to be polite to each other. When Bush pressured Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Hamid Karzai of Afghan to pay a visit to the White House they came kicking and screaming and wouldn’t shake hands!

secretary-of-state-hillary-clinton-2-25-09 Yesterday night it was very different story.  Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi of Pakistan and his Afghan counterpart, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, had a ‘nice’ dinner together and assured each other that they were committed to fighting extremists in both countries. The objective of the talks was to produce a new strategy for the region – the two Ministers camps in the same room talking about a common approach was definitely a step in the right direction.

In the same way the Bush administration spent three years urging the Egyptian government to free Ayman Nour, the country’s most prominent political dissident, to no avail. But last week, in a move that many interpreted as a goodwill gesture, the Egyptian government abruptly released Nour, citing “medical reasons.”

Likewise, two weeks ago, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia dismissed two powerful religious figures — including the head of the cane-wielding hard-core religious police known as the mutawa — as part of a government shuffle that appeared aimed at reforming the kingdom’s hard-line religious establishment.

While it might be a stretch to think that King Abdullah, who has been slowly inching toward modest reform, suddenly cast out the head of his religious police to suck up to the Obama administration, the new cooperation coming from the Egyptian, Afghan and Pakistani governments however is a clear-cut confirmation that these three governments want to work with President Obama.

“I think the Ayman Nour release is definitely connected to Obama,” said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It was a fairly simple thing for the Obama administration to say to the Egyptians that if you want Mubarak to see our guy, this has to happen.”

As for “Afpak” — the new shorthand for Afghanistan/Pakistan being popularized by Richard Holbrooke, the new high-level American envoy for the two countries — Perkovich says that both governments are trying to put their best foot forward. They expect demands from the Obama administration for the Afghan government to do more to fight corruption and drug trafficking, which many in the West believe has helped to fuel the resurgent Taliban and for Pakistan to do more to crack down on extremists in the border region.

Holbrooke is a veteran diplomat known for dragging reluctant Serbs to the peace table during the Balkans conflict. Perkovich suggests that the prospect of being put under any kind of judicial scrutiny by President Obama may have scared the Afghan and Pakistani delegations into making nice. “Some of this is them saying, ‘O.K., these guys mean business, and Holbrooke is going to be coming out here every month, so let’s see if with little gestures we can turn down the pressure.’ “

The United States wants Pakistan to focus more on insurgents and a little less on its long-running fight with India, which Washington believes is occupying the Pakistani Army, whose time would be better spent — in America’s view — on Afpak, instead of what might be called Indiapak.

Pakistan‘s foreign minister said Wednesday that his country has asked the United States to provide unmanned aircraft that would allow Pakistan to strike extremists hiding in rugged terrain along the Afghan border.  Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in an interview that Pakistan, and not the United States, should have control of the missile strikes that have killed high-level extremists but also civilians.

The U.S. missile strikes are one of the most sensitive issues in U.S.-Pakistan ties. Qureshi said they are making it harder for his government to persuade infuriated Pakistanis along the frontier to support the fight against militants. “We feel that if the technology is transferred to Pakistan, Pakistan will be in a better position to determine how to use the technology and, without alienating people, achieve the objective,” Qureshi said.

“Pakistan is a willing partner with the U.S. in this fight,” he said. “Let us exercise that judgment.”  The Bush government, Qureshi said, “had a point of view, and it was like the approach was, ‘This is it; take it or leave it.'”

The Egyptians want the United States to do a little more to press Israel on settlements in the West Bank. And in Afghanistan, where the presidential election season will be getting under way soon, Karzai has been striking increasingly anti-American tones, in a move to distance himself from the United States at a time when America is viewed with increasing hostility in that country.

“At the end of the day, we have some very significant policy differences with all of these countries,” Pollack said.

president-obama-japan-pm-taro-aso-2-24-09 On Tuesday President Obama continued with his diplomacy push and met with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso. Obama told Aso that the United States wanted to strengthen ties with Japan, a country Obama described as the cornerstone of U.S. security policy in East Asia and a major economic partner. Aso, who is struggling to stay in power, was the first foreign leader to visit the Obama White House, and the president called the prestigious invitation “a testimony to the strong partnership between the United States and Japan.”

“The friendship between the United States and Japan is extraordinarily important to our country,” Obama told reporters. “We think that we have an opportunity to work together, not only on issues related to the Pacific Rim but throughout the world.”

The Japanese leader, sitting next to Obama in the Oval Office before their private meeting, said the world’s top two economies “will have to work together hand in hand” to solve the “very critical, vital issue of the world.”

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