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History > 2009 > USA > Politics > International (III)

 

 

 

 

President Obama Speaks to the Muslim World from Cairo, Egypt

"A New Beginning"

The President gives a speech in Cairo, Egypt,

outlining his personal commitment

to engagement with the Muslim world,

based upon mutual interests and mutual respect,

and discusses how the United States and Muslim communities around the world

can bridge some of the differences that have divided them.

YouTube > The White House

June 4, 2009
https://www.youtube.com/watch?
annotation_id=annotation_54394&v=NaxZPiiKyMw&feature=iv

http://www.youtube.com/user/whitehouse

Full Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a Coup in Honduras,

Ghosts of Past U.S. Policies

 

June 30, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and MARC LACEY

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday strongly condemned the ouster of Honduras’s president as an illegal coup that set a “terrible precedent” for the region, as the country’s new government defied international calls to return the toppled president to power and clashed with thousands of protesters.

“We do not want to go back to a dark past,” Mr. Obama said, in which military coups override elections. “We always want to stand with democracy,” he added.

The crisis in Honduras, where members of the country’s military abruptly awakened President Manuel Zelaya on Sunday and forced him out of the country in his bedclothes, is pitting Mr. Obama against the ghosts of past American foreign policy in Latin America.

The United States has a history of backing rival political factions and instigating coups in the region, and administration officials have found themselves on the defensive in recent days, dismissing repeated allegations by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela that the C.I.A. may have had a hand in the president’s removal.

Obama administration officials said that they were surprised by the coup on Sunday. But they also said that they had been working for several weeks to try to head off a political crisis in Honduras as the confrontation between Mr. Zelaya and the military over his efforts to lift presidential term limits escalated.

The United States has long had strong ties to the Honduras military and helps train Honduran military forces. Those close ties have put the Obama administration in a difficult position, opening it up to accusations that it may have turned a blind eye to the pending coup. Administration officials strongly deny the charges, and Mr. Obama’s quick response to the Honduran president’s removal has differed sharply from the actions of the Bush administration, which in 2002 offered a rapid, tacit endorsement of a short-lived coup against Mr. Chávez.

On June 2, Obama administration officials got a firsthand look at the brewing political battle when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Honduras for an Organization of American States conference. Mrs. Clinton met with Mr. Zelaya, and he reportedly annoyed her when he summoned her to a private room late in the night after her arrival and had her shake hands with his extended family.

During a more formal meeting afterward, they discussed Mr. Zelaya’s plans for a referendum that would have laid the groundwork for an assembly to remake the Constitution, a senior administration official said.

But American officials did not believe that Mr. Zelaya’s plans for the referendum were in line with the Constitution, and were worried that it would further inflame tensions with the military and other political factions, administration officials said.

Even so, one administration official said that while the United States thought the referendum was a bad idea, it did not justify a coup.

“On the one instance, we’re talking about conducting a survey, a nonbinding survey; in the other instance, we’re talking about the forcible removal of a president from a country,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity during a teleconference call with reporters.

As the situation in Honduras worsened, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr., along with Hugo Llorens, the American ambassador to Honduras, spoke with Mr. Zelaya, military officials and opposition leaders, administration officials said. Then things reached a boil last Wednesday and Thursday, when Mr. Zelaya fired the leader of the armed forces and the Supreme Court followed up with a declaration that Mr. Zelaya’s planned referendum was illegal.

The White House and the State Department had Mr. Llorens “talk with the parties involved, to tell them, ‘You have to talk your way through this,’ ” a senior administration official said Monday. “ ‘You can’t do anything outside the bounds of your constitution.’ ”

Still, administration officials said that they did not expect that the military would go so far as to carry out a coup. “There was talk of how they might remove the president from office, how he could be arrested, on whose authority they could do that,” the administration official said. But the official said that the speculation had focused on legal maneuvers to remove the president, not a coup.

Whether Mr. Zelaya merited removal remains a strong point of debate in Honduras. Fierce clashes erupted Monday between thousands of soldiers and thousands of Mr. Zelaya’s backers. The protesters blocked streets, set fires and hurled stones at the soldiers, who fired tear gas in response. But opponents of Mr. Zelaya said they intended to rally Tuesday in support of his ouster.

On the diplomatic front, three of the country’s neighbors — Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua — said they would halt commerce along their borders for 48 hours. Beyond that, Venezuela and some of its allies, including Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba, said they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Honduras in an effort to isolate the new government. Brazil also said it had ordered its ambassador to Honduras, who was out of the country at the time of the coup, not to return until further notice.

In the face of criticism from across the hemisphere, the new government hunkered down in Mr. Zelaya’s old office, ringed by soldiers and defending its actions as a bid to save the country’s democracy, not undermine it.

Roberto Micheletti, the veteran congressional leader who was sworn in by his fellow lawmakers on Sunday to replace Mr. Zelaya, seemed to plead with the world to understand that Mr. Zelaya’s arrest by the army had been under an official arrest warrant based on his flouting of the Constitution.

“We respect the whole world, and we only ask that they respect us and leave us in peace,” Mr. Micheletti said in a radio interview, noting that previously scheduled elections called for November would go on as planned.

Mr. Zelaya said from Nicaragua late Monday that he would return to Honduras on Thursday with the secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, Reuters reported.

“He’s the former president of Honduras now,” said Ramón Abad Custodio, the president of the National Commission of Human Rights, who defends the replacement of Mr. Zelaya as constitutional. “He may feel like he’s still president, but he’s a common citizen now.”

 

Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and Marc Lacey from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Simon Romero contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia, Elisabeth Malkin from Mexico City, and Blake Schmidt from Managua, Nicaragua.

    In a Coup in Honduras, Ghosts of Past U.S. Policies, NYT, 30.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/world/americas/30honduras.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Violence May Hinder Talks With Iran, Obama Says

 

June 27, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama, whose campaign for the White House included a pledge to open talks with Iran, said Friday that the prospects for such a dialogue had been dampened by the brutal crackdown in the wake of the nation’s disputed presidential election.

At a White House news conference with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, Mr. Obama intensified his reproach of Iran’s government and called for an end to deadly attacks against its people. He also engaged in an unusual exchange with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, brushing aside a suggestion that he apologize for criticizing Iran.

“I would suggest that Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people,” Mr. Obama said. “And he might want to consider looking at the families of those who’ve been beaten or shot or detained.”

With Ms. Merkel at his side, Mr. Obama delivered some of his most pointed remarks against Iran since the violent protests began two weeks ago. Ms. Merkel said Germany and other nations shared his view, saying, “Iran cannot count on the world turning a blind eye.”

Since the two leaders last met, in Dresden on June 5, demonstrations over Iran’s disputed elections have escalated into violent clashes, heightening concerns about instability in Iran and how to deal with its nuclear program.

“There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks,” Mr. Obama said. “We don’t yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what has happened inside of Iran.”

But he added, “the clock is ticking,” with Iran pursuing its nuclear program “at a fairly rapid clip.”

For the first time, Mr. Obama also directly criticized Iran’s leaders and outlined distinctions between Mr. Ahmadinejad and his chief rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi. He said last week that few differences separated them on security issues, particularly the nuclear program.

He stressed Friday that the Iranian people should choose their leaders, but said Mr. Moussavi had “captured the imagination or the spirit” of people pushing for freedom in Iran.

Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel also discussed Iraq, Afghanistan, climate change and the global recession in a series of private meetings and a lunch at the White House. The visit comes in advance of meetings next month in Italy of the Group of 8 industrialized nations.

Foreign ministers of the group, who were already meeting in Trieste, Italy, issued a statement on Friday condemning the violence and urging Iran to resolve its crisis “through democratic dialogue and peaceful means,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The statement called on the Iranian government to “guarantee that the will of the Iranian people is reflected in the electoral process,” but refrained from questioning Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory, the agency reported.

On Iraq, where a deadline is approaching for American combat troops to leave all cities by Tuesday, Mr. Obama said an uptick in violence would not push back the withdrawal. Despite high-profile bombings this week, he said, security in Iraq has “continued to dramatically improve.”

But it was the violence in Iran that dominated the two leaders’ discussions on Friday. Ms. Merkel went a bit further than Mr. Obama in calling for a remedy to the disputed election, saying that votes should be recounted.

“We will not forget this,” Ms. Merkel said, expressing horror at images coming from Iran.

In Tehran on Thursday, government television quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as telling Mr. Obama to “show your repentance” for criticizing Iran’s response to the protests. He also said Mr. Obama was following “the same path that Bush did.”

Mr. Obama did not acquiesce, saying, “I don’t take Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements seriously about apologies, particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran.”

Of more urgent concern, Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel said, is Iran’s nuclear program. Talks among the United States, Europe, China and Russia, they said, must continue despite Iran’s disputed election.

The session at the White House on Friday was the third time Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel have met this year. Both leaders seemed intent on wiping away suggestions of a tense relationship between their countries.

    Violence May Hinder Talks With Iran, Obama Says, NYT, 27.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/27/world/middleeast/27prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Ahmadinejad Assails Obama as Opposition Urges Defiance

 

June 26, 2009
The New York Times
By NAZILA FATHI and ALAN COWELL

 

TEHRAN — As Iran’s embattled opposition leader said he would “not back down for a second” in challenging the disputed elections, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told President Obama on Thursday to avoid interfering in Iran’s affairs and demanded an apology from the American leader for purportedly striking the same critical tones as his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The sharp words offered no prospect of eased tensions between Washington and Tehran at a time of profound differences over issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, which the United States calls terrorist organizations.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments, quoted on the semi-official Fars news agency, came as at least three Iranian newspapers reported that only 105 of 290 members of the Iranian Parliament invited to a victory party for him Wednesday night actually attended the event, suggesting a deep divide within the political elite over the election and its aftermath.

Opposition figures said Thursday that 70 academics had been arrested after meeting with the main opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, on Wednesday, adding to a wave of detentions that has been depicted as the most sweeping since the Iranian revolution in 1979. But Mr. Moussavi said Thursday in a Web posting: “’I will not back down even for a second, even for personal threats or interests.”

In his first public comments for several days, Mr. Moussavi said he was coming under pressure to withdraw his challenge to the election, which he says was stolen. Another opposition candidate, the third-placed Mohsen Rezai, who won far fewer votes than Mr. Moussavi and was regarded as the most hard-line of the opposition candidates, formally withdrew complaints about electoral irregularities on Wednesday.

Mr. Moussavi, who has not been seen in public for a week, said on his Web site, Kalemeh, that there were “recent pressures on me aimed at withdrawing” his challenge to the vote. He did not go into detail but he complained that his “access to people is completely restricted,” the Web site said.

He also rejected the government’s insistence that protest is unlawful and promoted by outsiders.

“I insist on the nation’s constitutional right to protest against the election result and its aftermath,” Mr. Moussavi said, criticizing the closure in recent days of an opposition newspaper and the arrest of those who worked here. “The illegal confrontation with the media opens the way for foreign interference,” he added.

Compared with the mass protests last week against the election results by hundreds of thousands of Iranians, the numbers have dwindled in the face of punishing reprisals by security forces. Mr. Moussavi urged followers on Thursday to assemble at the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, on the outskirts of Tehran.

But the likely response to the call was initially unclear after security forces overwhelmed a small group of protesters on Wednesday with brutal beatings, tear gas and shots fired in the air. Another protest called for Thursday by the second-placed opposition candidate, former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, to mourn protesters killed in the demonstrations was called off, Mr. Karroubi said on his Web site.

One of those who died was Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old woman whose death last Saturday, recorded on an amateur video clip, went around the world on Web sites as an emblem of official brutality. Seeking to turn that image around, Web sites supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad began reporting Thursday that she had been killed by “hooligans” commissioned by a BBC reporter who has been expelled from Iran.

As the authorities have moved against Mr. Moussavi’s followers, there have been mounting fears that the opposition leader is himself in danger of being detained.

On Wednesday, the official Iranian news agency reported that intelligence and security agents in Tehran concluded that a Moussavi campaign office was used for “illegal gatherings, the promotion of unrest and efforts to undermine the country’s security,” leading to speculation that Mr. Moussavi could be arrested. The news agency reported that “the plotters have been arrested” and said the opposition office was a “headquarters for a psychological war.”

Some analysts raised questions about Mr. Moussavi’s leadership of the opposition. As a former prime minister who is essentially an insider thrust into the role of opposition, it has been difficult to gauge how far he would go to defy the system. But the latest posting seemed to suggest continued defiance.

As Iranian officials seek to crush the remaining resistance, American attitudes to their campaign have hardened.

After the official presidential results were announced, giving Mr. Ahmadinejad an 11 million-vote margin, President Obama was initially cautious in his response. But he has gradually adopted a much tougher stance, saying Tuesday he was “appalled and outraged” by events in Iran.

“Mr. Obama made a mistake to say those things,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said Thursday at a ceremony to open a petrochemical plant.

The election had brought a chance for a “new start in international relations” in which Iran would “speak from a different position based on dialogue and justice,” he said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency,

While Iran believed Britain and other European countries had a “bad record” in their relationship with Iran, he said, “we were not expecting Mr. Obama” to “fall into the same trap and continue the same path that Bush did.

“I hope you avoid the interfering in Iran’s affairs and express your regret in a way that the Iranian people find out about it,” he said.

But as he assailed the American leader, Mr. Ahmadinejad also faced a new challenge at home.

Analysts suggested that the unyielding response from lawmakers to his victory celebration showed that Iran’s leaders, backed by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had lost patience and that Iran was now, more than ever, a state guided not by clerics of the revolution but by a powerful military and security apparatus.

Security agents have continued to fan out across the country, detaining former government officials, journalists, activists, young people and old, anyone seen as siding with those who reject the conclusion that Mr. Ahmadinejad won a landslide against Mr. Moussavi.

The government also stepped up its efforts to block independent news coverage of events all across the country. The government has banned foreign news media members from leaving their offices, suspended all press credentials for foreign correspondents, arrested a freelance writer for The Washington Times, continued to hold a reporter for Newsweek and forced other foreign journalists to leave the country.

That made it difficult to ascertain exactly what happened when several hundred protesters tried to gather outside the Parliament building Wednesday afternoon. Witnesses said they were met by a huge force of riot police officers and Basij vigilantes, some on motorcycles and some in pickup trucks, armed with sticks and chains. Witnesses said people were trapped and beaten as they tried to flee down side streets.

“It was not possible to wait and see what happened,” said one witness who asked for anonymity out of fear of arrest. “At one point we saw several riot police in black clothes walk towards a group of people who looked like passers-by. Suddenly they pulled out their batons and began hitting them without warning.”

The authorities said they were moving to impose order and secure the rule of law. “I was insisting and will insist on implementation of the law,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on national television. “That means we will not go one step beyond the law. Neither the system nor the people will yield to pressure at any price.”

 

Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Michael Slackman and Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo, and Sharon Otterman from New York.

    Ahmadinejad Assails Obama as Opposition Urges Defiance, NYT, 26.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/26/world/middleeast/26iran.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Arab States Aligned With U.S. Savor Turmoil in Iran

 

June 25, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

 

CAIRO — The rancorous dispute over Iran’s presidential election could turn into a win-win for Arab leaders aligned with Washington who in the past have complained bitterly that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was destabilizing the region and meddling in Arab affairs, political analysts and former officials around the region said.

The good-news thinking goes like this: With Mr. Ahmadinejad remaining in office, there is less chance of substantially improved relations between Tehran and Washington, something America’s Arab allies feared would undermine their interests. At the same time, the electoral conflict may have weakened Iran’s leadership at home and abroad, forcing it to focus more on domestic stability, political analysts and former officials said.

“When Iran is strong and defiant they don’t like her and when Iran is closer to the West they don’t like her,” said Adnan Abu Odeh, a former adviser to King Hussein of Jordan.

Of course, such an outcome could also prove to be wishful thinking, political analysts cautioned. Other power centers in Iran, from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to the military, can have more influence over regional policy than the president. It is also possible that a deeply divided leadership could aim to exacerbate regional tensions to distract attention from its domestic problems.

The Iranian standoff may also serve as a cautionary tale for Arab leaders who have watched as modern technology, like the Internet, social networking sites and cellphones, has yet again undermined the ability of authoritarian states to control access to and distribution of information.

But the cultural and social differences between Iran and Arab states are so great, there was no sense that leaders feared their citizens would be inspired to rise up. Iran is an important and influential nation in the Middle East, but it is also distant from the Sunni Arab street as a majority Persian country with a majority Shiite population.

“A lot of young people in the Arab world would love to see something like that, but the kind of civil society they have makes it much more natural for this to happen in Iran than in a place like Egypt or Saudi Arabia,” said Ahmed al-Omran, a college student in Saudi Arabia and author of the popular blog saudijeans.org.

Moreover, the dramatic video of Iranians being beaten or shot by Basijis has done incalculable damage to Iran’s image as the region’s most religiously pure and populist state. Iran’s allies in the region, including Syria, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Hamas movement in the Palestinian territories, also seem likely to suffer a blow to their credibility, and perhaps to their financing, if the election crisis is resolved with heavy suppression or an extended standoff with the opposition, analysts said.

One gauge of how Arab leaders are reacting to the Iran crisis is their silence. Officials seem eager to avoid even the appearance that they are trying to influence the outcome, political analysts said. The state-controlled media outlets around the region have also been relatively low key in their coverage.

“When you are waiting so much for something that makes you happy, you hold your breath, you make less noise in order not to affect the outcome,” said Randa Habib, a political analyst and columnist in Amman, Jordan.

Iran’s allies, on the other hand, are restive. Emad Gad, an Egyptian expert in international affairs, said that he saw evidence of Iran’s allies, especially in Syria, trying to hedge their bet on Tehran. He said that Syria had in recent days been more willing to help Egypt press for reconciliation between Palestinian factions.

“I think Ahmadinejad will concentrate in the economic field to improve living conditions for his population after this crisis,” Mr. Gad said. “That means less giving money, less meddling, less penetration in the Arab world, less involvement.”

When the Iranian government first announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won a landslide victory, there was a collective sigh of regret among Arab leaders aligned with Washington. They had hoped that the reform candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, would win, but they instead ended up — it appeared — with an emboldened incumbent. So it is with a bit of surprise, indeed disbelief and no shortage of cheer, that events may yet turn out even better than if Mr. Moussavi had won, political analysts said.

“The Arab leaders are watching and they are very pleased,” Mr. Gad said. “The Ahmadinejad after this election will be very different than the Ahmadinejad before this election. He will be weaker.”

There is, analysts acknowledged, a potentially darker sequence of events that could emerge — one where Mr. Ahmadinejad comes out of this crisis even less concerned about domestic opinion than before and more aggressive. Analysts said that could prove difficult for him, though, because of deep splits that the conflict has already caused among the political elite.

The Arab governments aligned with Washington are part of a camp that has promoted an Arab peace initiative with Israel. Iran, they have charged, has worked to undermine the peace process by financing Hamas and Hezbollah and by attacking those in the peace camp. Before the elections, Iran was increasingly flexing its geopolitical muscles, often in disputes with its much smaller Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf region. A former Iranian speaker of Parliament, for example, said that Bahrain was historically part of Iran.

Now, Arab leaders are looking to regain the momentum and slow Iran’s spreading power and influence, analysts said. They are also looking to use the crisis in Iran to undermine political Islam in general. The Arab world is ruled by authoritarian leaders, kings and emirs — and its greatest challenge to legitimacy and control is political Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan.

“Opponents of the Islamist movement go far in anticipating the collapse of the Islamic revolution and the end of the Islamist movements and their political project,” said Mohammad Abu Rumman, research editor at the newspaper Al Ghad in Amman. “Anticipating the failure of the revolution is an anticipation of the failure of political Islam in general.”

 

Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting.

    Arab States Aligned With U.S. Savor Turmoil in Iran, NYT, 25.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/25/world/middleeast/25arabs.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Objects to China’s Web Filtering

 

June 25, 2009
The New York Times
By SAUL HANSELL

 

The Obama administration lodged a formal protest on Wednesday with the Chinese government over its plan to force all computers sold in China to come with software that blocks access to certain Web sites.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Ron Kirk, the trade representative, sent a letter to officials in two Chinese ministries asking them to rescind a rule about the software that is set to take effect on July 1.

Chinese officials have said that the filtering software, known as Green Dam-Youth Escort, is meant to block pornography and other “unhealthy information.”

In part, the American officials’ complaint framed this as a trade issue, objecting to the burden put on computer makers to install the software with little notice. But it also raised broader questions about whether the software would lead to more censorship of the Internet in China and restrict freedom of expression.

“China is putting companies in an untenable position by requiring them, with virtually no public notice, to pre-install software that appears to have broad-based censorship implications and network security issues,” Mr. Locke said in a news release. The government did not release the text of the letter.

The letter, by two cabinet-rank officials, represents an escalation of the concern over the software plan. Last week United States officials met with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing to raise objections to the new policy.

Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, one of several trade groups that have objected to the Chinese plan, said the letter represented a significant change in American policy.

“The issue of Internet freedom and openness was something that should have been at the top of the U.S. international agenda and hasn’t been,” Mr. Black said. “This administration is far more in tune with and ready to support Internet openness.”

China already has an elaborate system that blocks access to sites that discuss delicate topics like the Dalai Lama and Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement.

In their statement, the American officials rejected the argument that the software was simply a way to block pornography.

"Protecting children from inappropriate content is a legitimate objective, but this is an inappropriate means and is likely to have a broader scope,” Mr. Kirk said in the statement. “Mandating technically flawed Green Dam software and denying manufacturers and consumers freedom to select filtering software is an unnecessary and unjustified means to achieve that objective.”

Security experts have expressed concerns that once installed, the software might also be used to block other sorts of content or even to monitor the online activities of citizens.

The letter suggested that China’s move might violate World Trade Organization rules because American companies were given only six weeks’ notice to comply. While formal complaints to the trade organization are difficult and cumbersome, pointing to the regulations is another signal that the United States will continue to pursue the issue.

With only one week before the new rules are to go into effect, it is unclear if American computer companies will comply.

Pamela Bonney, a spokeswoman for Hewlett-Packard, said the company was still studying the rules and seeking clarification. A spokesman for Dell did not return calls seeking comment.

Separately, access to Google’s main search engine at Google.com and other services like Gmail was temporarily blocked in China on Wednesday. It was restored a few hours later.

Access to foreign Web sites in China can be erratic, and determining whether the government is responsible can be difficult.

It is not clear whether the blocking of Google’s sites is related to a dispute that erupted last week between Google and Chinese authorities. The Chinese government disabled some search functions of Google’s Chinese-language search engine, Google.cn, saying the site offered too many links to pornographic material.

Google’s license to operate in China requires that it not show pornographic sites.

 

Miguel Helft contributed reporting.

    U.S. Objects to China’s Web Filtering, NYT, 25.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/25/world/asia/25censor.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

A Heated Argument About Israel

 

June 24, 2009
The New York Times

 

To the Editor:

“Fictions on the Ground,” by Tony Judt (Op-Ed, June 22), is the real work of fiction, past, present and future.

Israelis settled in the West Bank because it was deemed part of the historic home of the Jewish people and because the Arabs and the Palestinians rejected opportunities for peace with Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967. The territory in legal terms was undecided because the Palestinians from 1947 rejected the United Nations resolution dividing the land into Arab and Jewish states.

Saying — as Mr. Judt does — that Israel will never give up the settlements ignores the fact that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to dismantle 80 percent of the settlements at Camp David; that his successor, Ariel Sharon, dismantled all of the settlements in Gaza; and that Israeli leaders have repeatedly indicated that most of the settlements will go if there is peace, and those held will be part of a swap for Israeli territory.

Settlements are not an obstacle to peace if there is serious peacemaking, peace-teaching and compromise from the other side. As for fictions — as Mr. Judt has made clear in his writings, his problem is not with Israeli settlements, but with Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state.

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director
Anti-Defamation League
New York, June 22, 2009


To the Editor:

Tony Judt does a wonderful job of clarifying why all the “settlements” are illegal and stand in the way of peace in the Middle East, and of explaining how the small but significant political constituency in Israel prevents meaningful change from taking place.

He rightly calls on the United States to change its stance but neglects to point out how a small but significant constituency in this country plays a similar role. Some of us, presumed to be part of that very constituency, certainly hope that President Obama will disregard the wrongful wishes of that constituency and put the United States on the right side of this issue once and for all.

For the sake of Israel and the wider world, expansion of settlements must stop, and all of them must be dismantled.

Howard Rubinstein
Brooklyn, June 22, 2009



To the Editor:

Tony Judt casts the road map for peace in the Middle East exclusively in terms of his lament for the disappearance of the idealistic kibbutzim of his youth and his fury with the policies of the right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet oddly, in the article, the outside world, including the Palestinians, doesn’t seem to exist.

In these difficult times the United States will have enough difficulty brokering a peace between Israel and the Palestinians — it can’t referee internal Israeli politics. That there are both idealistic and corrupt Israelis and Palestinians is a given. The real issue is how do we pragmatically get to a two-state solution.

Barbara Probst Solomon
New York, June 22, 2009



To the Editor:

Tony Judt misleads in many ways, among them by implying that the West Bank was captured by Israel in 1967 from some Palestinian country and not Jordan (which does not seek its return), and contending that Yigal Amir was inspired to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin by “rabbinical” influence at Bar-Ilan University (Mr. Amir has stated clearly otherwise).

Most egregious, though, is Mr. Judt’s amazing objection to demilitarizing any Palestinian state established in the West Bank, because it would “have no means of defending itself against aggression.” Considering how the Palestinians in a militarized Gaza responded to Israel’s withdrawal from that territory, raining thousands of rockets onto Israeli cities, for Israel to help establish a weaponized Arab country in its very heart, within range of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, would be to commit national suicide.

(Rabbi) Avi Shafran
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
New York, June 22, 2009



To the Editor:

Tony Judt didn’t answer my most basic question: Why does a future Palestinian state have to be free of Jews? If Arabs can live in Israel, why can’t Jews live in Palestine?

By refusing to answer this question, he and all the proponents of a settlement freeze turn the settlement argument into a facade. Because if the settlements don’t have to be removed, then why waste time arguing about what is a settlement, where are the boundaries, what is natural growth?

Making Jews, and only Jews, leave their homes is ethnic cleansing. Isn’t this exactly what Israel’s critics accuse it of?

Jonathan D. Reich
Lakeland, Fla., June 23, 2009



To the Editor:

Tony Judt provides a realistic assessment of both the illegality of settlements in international law as well as the collusion of Israeli governments of all tendencies to support them.

As he points out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu government’s sudden support of a Palestinian state is meaningless because the settlements would remain, something no Palestinian leader could accept. This will enable Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in this country to claim once again that there is no partner for peace.

While not all Palestinian factions openly accept Israel’s existence, Fatah does.

But Mahmoud Abbas could never accept Mr. Netanyahu’s supposedly sincere offer because the bypass roads for Jews only and the carefully placed settlements would ensure that no viable Palestinian state could be created — precisely what Israeli rightists and their American lobbies intend.

After all, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon assured President George W. Bush of his support for a Palestinian state in April 2004, he referred to Palestinians in the West Bank having what he called “transportation contiguity,” meaning tunnels beneath Israeli bypass roads to settlements that only Israelis could use. That constitutes a viable state?

Charles D. Smith
San Diego, June 22, 2009

The writer is a professor of Middle East history at the University of Arizona.



To the Editor:

Among the many fictions in Tony Judt’s article was his portrayal of Bar-Ilan University. In his remark about the university, Mr. Judt ignored the tremendous diversity of political opinion and religious observance at Bar-Ilan, Israel’s fastest-growing and largest university, with an academic community of 33,000 students.

Bar-Ilan is a leading force in unifying Israel’s religious and secular communities. More than 60 percent of its students identify as primarily secular. They are attracted by the university’s commitment to a first-class education in the sciences, humanities, law, engineering, business and the arts — all within a learning environment that fosters Jewish values and promotes dialogue among Israelis from different backgrounds.

Bar-Ilan University stresses the Jewish people’s ties to Israel for more than 3,000 years — a point that was emphasized in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. He wanted to speak at a university that is grounded in the Zionist enterprise.

It is the respect that Israelis have for Bar-Ilan University and its efforts to unify Israeli society that led to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to give his recent address at the university’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Mark D. Medin
New York, June 22, 2009

The writer is executive vice president and chief executive, American Friends of Bar-Ilan University.




To the Editor:

If the Israelis and the Palestinians are ever to come to an agreement — in three years or 30 years — becoming much clearer and more honest about what the issues really are will need to come first.

In this regard, the article by Tony Judt is a difficult but important step forward. The truth hurts. The “settlements” are indeed the key issue. If “settlements” can be solved, then “security” will come quite naturally.

James Opie
Portland, Ore., June 22, 2009

    A Heated Argument About Israel, NYT, 24.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/opinion/l24judt.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Contributor

Fictions on the Ground

 

June 22, 2009
The New York Times
By TONY JUDT

 

I am old enough to remember when Israeli kibbutzim looked like settlements (“a small village or collection of houses” or “the act of peopling or colonizing a new country,” Oxford English Dictionary).

In the early 1960s, I spent time on Kibbutz Hakuk, a small community founded by the Palmah unit of the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish militia. Begun in 1945, Hakuk was just 18 years old when I first saw it, and was still raw at the edges. The few dozen families living there had built themselves a dining hall, farm sheds, homes and a “baby house” where the children were cared for during the workday. But where the residential buildings ended there were nothing but rock-covered hillsides and half-cleared fields.

The community’s members still dressed in blue work shirts, khaki shorts and triangular hats, consciously cultivating a pioneering image and ethos already at odds with the hectic urban atmosphere of Tel Aviv. Ours, they seemed to say to bright-eyed visitors and volunteers, is the real Israel; come and help us clear the boulders and grow bananas — and tell your friends in Europe and America to do likewise.

Hakuk is still there. But today it relies on a plastics factory and the tourists who flock to the nearby Sea of Galilee. The original farm, built around a fort, has been turned into a tourist attraction. To speak of this kibbutz as a settlement would be bizarre.

However, Israel needs “settlements.” They are intrinsic to the image it has long sought to convey to overseas admirers and fund-raisers: a struggling little country securing its rightful place in a hostile environment by the hard moral work of land clearance, irrigation, agrarian self-sufficiency, industrious productivity, legitimate self-defense and the building of Jewish communities. But this neo-collectivist frontier narrative rings false in modern, high-tech Israel. And so the settler myth has been transposed somewhere else — to the Palestinian lands seized in war in 1967 and occupied illegally ever since.

It is thus not by chance that the international press is encouraged to speak and write of Jewish “settlers” and “settlements” in the West Bank. But this image is profoundly misleading. The largest of these controversial communities in geographic terms is Maale Adumim. It has a population in excess of 35,000, demographically comparable to Montclair, N.J., or Winchester, England. What is most striking, however, about Maale Adumim is its territorial extent. This “settlement” comprises more than 30 square miles — making it one and a half times the size of Manhattan and nearly half as big as the borough and city of Manchester, England. Some “settlement.”

There are about 120 official Israeli settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank. In addition, there are “unofficial” settlements whose number is estimated variously from 80 to 100. Under international law, there is no difference between these two categories; both are contraventions of Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly prohibits the annexation of land consequent to the use of force, a principle re-stated in Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter.

Thus the distinction so often made in Israeli pronouncements between “authorized” and “unauthorized” settlements is specious — all are illegal, whether or not they have been officially approved and whether or not their expansion has been “frozen” or continues apace. (It is a matter of note that Israel’s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, belongs to the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, established in 1982 and illegally expanded since.)

The blatant cynicism of the present Israeli government should not blind us to the responsibility of its more respectable-looking predecessors. The settler population has grown consistently at a rate of 5 percent annually over the past two decades, three times the rate of increase of the Israeli population as a whole. Together with the Jewish population of East Jerusalem (itself illegally annexed to Israel), the settlers today number more than half a million people: just over 10 percent of the Jewish population of so-called Greater Israel. This is one reason why settlers count for so much in Israeli elections, where proportional representation gives undue political leverage to even the smallest constituency.

But the settlers are no mere marginal interest group. To appreciate their significance, spread as they are over a dispersed archipelago of urban installations protected from Arab intrusion by 600 checkpoints and barriers, consider the following: taken together, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights constitute a homogenous demographic bloc nearly the size of the District of Columbia. It exceeds the population of Tel Aviv itself by almost one third. Some “settlement.”

If Israel is drunk on settlements, the United States has long been its enabler. Were Israel not the leading beneficiary of American foreign aid — averaging $2.8 billion a year from 2003 to 2007, and scheduled to reach $3.1 billion by 2013 — houses in West Bank settlements would not be so cheap: often less than half the price of equivalent homes in Israel proper.

Many of the people who move to these houses don’t even think of themselves as settlers. Newly arrived from Russia and elsewhere, they simply take up the offer of subsidized accommodation, move into the occupied areas and become — like peasants in southern Italy freshly supplied with roads and electricity — the grateful clients of their political patrons. Like American settlers heading west, Israeli colonists in the West Bank are the beneficiaries of their very own Homestead Act, and they will be equally difficult to uproot.

Despite all the diplomatic talk of disbanding the settlements as a condition for peace, no one seriously believes that these communities — with their half a million residents, their urban installations, their privileged access to fertile land and water — will ever be removed. The Israeli authorities, whether left, right or center, have no intention of removing them, and neither Palestinians nor informed Americans harbor illusions on this score.

To be sure, it suits almost everyone to pretend otherwise — to point to the 2003 “road map” and speak of a final accord based on the 1967 frontiers. But such feigned obliviousness is the small change of political hypocrisy, the lubricant of diplomatic exchange that facilitates communication and compromise.

There are occasions, however, when political hypocrisy is its own nemesis, and this is one of them. Because the settlements will never go, and yet almost everyone likes to pretend otherwise, we have resolutely ignored the implications of what Israelis have long been proud to call “the facts on the ground.”

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, knows this better than most. On June 14 he gave a much-anticipated speech in which he artfully blew smoke in the eyes of his American interlocutors. While offering to acknowledge the hypothetical existence of an eventual Palestinian state — on the explicit understanding that it exercise no control over its airspace and have no means of defending itself against aggression — he reiterated the only Israeli position that really matters: we won’t build illegal settlements but we reserve the right to expand “legal” ones according to their natural rate of growth. (It is not by chance that he chose to deliver this speech at Bar-Ilan University, the heartland of rabbinical intransigence where Yigal Amir learned to hate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before heading off to assassinate him in 1995.)

THE reassurances Mr. Netanyahu offered the settlers and their political constituency were as well received as ever, despite being couched in honeyed clichés directed at nervous American listeners. And the American news media, predictably, took the bait — uniformly emphasizing Mr. Netanyahu’s “support” for a Palestinian state and playing down everything else.

However, the real question now is whether President Obama will respond in a similar vein. He surely wants to. Nothing could better please the American president and his advisors than to be able to assert that, in the wake of his Cairo speech, even Mr. Netanyahu had shifted ground and was open to compromise. Thus Washington avoids a confrontation, for now, with its closest ally. But the uncomfortable reality is that the prime minister restated the unvarnished truth: His government has no intention of recognizing international law or opinion with respect to Israel’s land-grab in “Judea and Samaria.”

Thus President Obama faces a choice. He can play along with the Israelis, pretending to believe their promises of good intentions and the significance of the distinctions they offer him. Such a pretense would buy him time and favor with Congress. But the Israelis would be playing him for a fool, and he would be seen as one in the Mideast and beyond.

Alternatively, the president could break with two decades of American compliance, acknowledge publicly that the emperor is indeed naked, dismiss Mr. Netanyahu for the cynic he is and remind Israelis that all their settlements are hostage to American goodwill. He could also remind Israelis that the illegal communities have nothing to do with Israel’s defense, much less its founding ideals of agrarian self-sufficiency and Jewish autonomy. They are nothing but a colonial takeover that the United States has no business subsidizing.

But if I am right, and there is no realistic prospect of removing Israel’s settlements, then for the American government to agree that the mere nonexpansion of “authorized” settlements is a genuine step toward peace would be the worst possible outcome of the present diplomatic dance. No one else in the world believes this fairy tale; why should we? Israel’s political elite would breathe an unmerited sigh of relief, having once again pulled the wool over the eyes of its paymaster. The United States would be humiliated in the eyes of its friends, not to speak of its foes. If America cannot stand up for its own interests in the region, at least let it not be played yet again for a patsy.

Tony Judt is the director of the Remarque Institute at New York University and the author of “Postwar” and “Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century.”

 

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 22, 2009

An earlier version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 2005. He was assassinated in 1995.

    Fictions on the Ground, NYT, 22.6.2009, ttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/22/opinion/22judt.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Assails Iran for Violent Response to Protests

 

June 24, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY and PETER BAKER

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama harshly condemned the Iranian crackdown against demonstrations on Tuesday, declaring the rest of the world “appalled and outraged” and dismissing what he called “patently false and absurd” accusations that the United States instigated the protests.

In his sharpest and most expansive comments on the crisis in Tehran since the June 12 elections that the opposition called rigged, Mr. Obama deplored the violence that has killed some protesters, including a young woman whose death was captured on a video that has been played around the world.

“While this loss is raw and painful,” the president said, “we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.”

The president’s forceful comments, delivered during prepared remarks opening a midday news conference at the White House, came after 10 days of more restrained response by Mr. Obama, who expressed concern that a more prominent role would play into the Iranian government’s hands. Even as he employed tougher language on Tuesday, he emphasized repeatedly that the protests in Tehran have nothing to do with the United States and rejected Iranian allegations of American involvement.

“They are an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders,” he said. “This tired strategy of using tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States and the West. This is about the people of Iran, and the future that they, and only they, will choose.”

Asked by reporters if in toughening his response he had been influenced by the criticism of Republicans like Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama flashed a wide smile and said, “What do you think?”

He went on to say that other politicians have the freedom to speak as they choose, but he had to be more careful because he speaks for the country. “Only I’m the president,” he said.

Mr. Obama also used the news conference to promote two domestic priorities, an energy bill intended to reduce the emissions that create climate change and an overhaul of the health care system. He argued that the two plans, which each would introduce dramatic changes to wide swaths of the American economy, would transform the nation for the future and be paid for without adding to the deficit.

His endorsement of the energy bill set for a vote in the House on Friday represented his most explicit and full-throated pitch for the approach, which was crafted by influential Democratic lawmakers and intended to help push it past opposition. On health care, Mr. Obama continued arguing that reform “is not a luxury” but “a necessity” without laying down non-negotiable positions on how the legislation should be crafted.

A day after signing major legislation regulating tobacco, Mr. Obama acknowledged that he still smokes cigarettes from time to time, something his aides refused to discuss on Monday.

“As a former smoker, have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes,” he said in response to a question. “Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No. I don’t do it in front of my kids. I don’t do it in front of my family. I would say I am 95 percent cured. But there are times where I mess up.”

The president was speaking in his fourth White House news conference since taking office five months ago. It was intended to be Mr. Obama’s first formal Rose Garden news conference, but aides moved the event inside into the briefing room because temperatures outdoors were approaching 90 degrees.

It was a crowded scene inside the White House briefing room, a space notably smaller than the formal setting of the East Room where prime-time news conferences take place. Dozens of reporters and photographers lined the sides of the room and spilled outside the doorway.

The midday appearance was the latest in the president’s aggressive media push, which has included a series of interviews with broadcast and cable television networks as he attempts to persuade Americans that his economic plan will create jobs and bring an end to the recession. Yet as unemployment creeps toward 10 percent, several recent public opinion polls have found Americans are not convinced that Mr. Obama’s pricy economic plans have kicked in.

    Obama Assails Iran for Violent Response to Protests, NYT, 24.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/us/politics/24webobama.html?hp

    Related > http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/us/politics/23text-obama.html

 

 

 

 

 

In Hawaii, Korean Strike Looms as a New Threat

 

June 23, 2009
The New York Times
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD

 

HONOLULU – Hawaii has long lived with the threat of wipe out – whether by tsunami, volcano, or foreign invader.

Now comes word that North Korea has reportedly threatened to launch a ballistic missile in this general direction around Independence Day, prompting the United States military to beef up defenses here.

Anti-missile interceptors are in place, the Defense Department said, and Hawaiians watched the other day as a giant, towering radar commonly known as the golf ball set out to sea from the base where it is normally moored.

But if the likes of Gerald Aikau, a lifelong resident, are on any state of alert, it would be the one telling him his octopus, caught in the waters here with his own spear and bare hands, is overcooked.

“What are you going to do?” Mr. Aikau, 34, a commercial painter, said as he proudly grilled his catch at a beachfront park. “You are going to go sometime, whether it’s on a wave, or a missile, or your buddy knocking you down and you hit your head.”

Vulnerability, and a certain fatalism about it, are part of the fabric of life in this archipelago, 2,500 miles from the mainland and, as many residents seem to have memorized, 4,500 miles from North Korea.

People at once took comfort in the heavy, year-round military presence provided by several bases but also wondered if it made the state more of a target.

In an interview to be broadcast Monday on CBS’ “The Early Show,” President Obama, who was born and spent much of his youth here, said “our military is fully prepared for any contingencies” regarding North Korea.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates had announced Thursday that the military had deployed ground-based interceptors and sea-based radar to help deflect any long-range missile from North Korea. Japanese news media last week reported that North Korea appeared to be readying a rocket for testing some time around July 4.

Calls to Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, were answered by Major General Robert G. F. Lee, the state’s defense department director, who suggested the threat was more saber-rattling from North Korea. He questioned whether its missiles had the technological capacity to get very far, but just the same, he said, the state is ready for hostile action.

“Our military assets should be able to protect us,” said Major General Lee, whose duties include civil defense. “We, like all states, are prepared for natural disasters down to terrorism.”

He said the state’s disaster sirens are working and residents, as always, are advised to keep a three-day stock of food, water, medicine and other essentials.

“Out here by ourselves, we have to be a little more prepared just in case help does not get here quickly from the mainland,” he said.

Of course, the specter of Pearl Harbor still figures prominently here, as well as the cat-and-mouse of Cold War maneuverings off the coast, including the mysterious loss of a Soviet ballistic missile submarine 750 miles northwest of Oahu in 1968.

“We are first strike from Asia,” said state Representative Joseph M. Souki, 76, a Democrat, who still remembers the wave of anxiety that swept his neighborhood on Maui as Pearl Harbor was bombed. “It’s not like we are in Iowa.”

Still, he said, “more than likely nothing is going to happen. Hawaii is like a pawn in a chess game.”

The state could ill afford anything approximating a calamity.

The recession has been blamed for a nearly 11 percent drop in the number of visitors here last year compared to the year before. The seasonally adjusted unemployment in May reached 7.4 percent, up from 6.9 percent in the previous month and the highest in the past three decades.

The tourists that did come carried on as usual, taking surf lessons, strolling Waikiki Beach and reflecting at the USS Arizona memorial, whose park includes a display of old Polaris submarine-launched missiles.

“Send one of these babies up,” suggested Clifton Wannaker, 45, an accountant visiting from South Dakota, when told of the threat. He knocked on the missile’s skin for good measure.

Standing at the shoreline in view of the iconic Arizona memorial, Steve Brecheen, a 54-year-old pharmacist from Oklahoma City, seemed a bit more unnerved.

“North Korea seems the most unstable government as far as a threat to the U.S. is concerned,” Mr. Brecheen said.

He motioned to the memorial, which sits over the remains of the battleship sunk by the Japanese in the Pearl Harbor attack.

“In 1941 some of these people didn’t think the Japanese were an extreme threat and they got their minds changed pretty quickly,” he said.

But among Hawaiians skepticism mixed with annoyance and even anger that their state, hypothetically at least, could be a testing ground.

“I think they would be stupid to do that test,” said Misioki Tauiliili, 39, a delivery truck driver, taking in the placid scene at a city beach near Waikiki. “The U.S. should go out there and shake them.”

By that he meant perhaps firing its own rockets in North Korea’s direction, “to test them.”

Mark N. Brown, 49, an artist painting nearby, was less bellicose. He said he took comfort in the steps the military has taken and remained concern that an act of aggression by North Korea would lead to war.

But, with a wry smile, he added that a neighboring island, far less populated but a bit closer to North Korea, would probably take the hit.

“It would hit Kuaia,” he said. “We are on Oahu.”

Mele Connor, 55, a lifelong Hawaiian shopping with visitors from the mainland at a clothing store on Waikiki, laughed off the threat.

“After North Korea it will be somebody else,” she said. “They know Obama is from here, so they want something. Everybody wants something from our pretty little islands.”

    In Hawaii, Korean Strike Looms as a New Threat, NYT, 23.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/us/23hawaii.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Gauging Whether Obama Is Creating Openings in Iran

 

June 21, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER

 

“We don’t want this regime to fall. We want our votes to be counted, because we want reforms, we want kindness, we want friendship with the world.” — Ali Reza, an Iranian actor, on the sidelines of protests in Tehran.

 

WASHINGTON — Could there be something to all the talk of an Obama effect, after all? A stealth effect, perhaps?

As the silent protests in Tehran dominated television screens around the world last week, a peculiar debate in Washington erupted. On one side, a handful of supporters of President Bush said Iranian protesters had taken to the streets because they were emboldened by President Bush’s pro-democracy stance, and the example of Shiite democracy he set up in Iraq. On the other side, some of President Obama’s backers countered that the mere election of Barack Obama in the United States had galvanized reformers in Iran to demand change.

Both of those arguments gave the United States an outsize role at the epicenter of an unfolding story that most experts, and a great many Iranians who talked to pollsters, said was actually not about America at all; it was about Iran and its own problems, notably a highly disputable vote count and the performance of its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We have to be a little humble about our understanding about what’s going on in Iran,” said R. Nicholas Burns, who was a State Department under secretary for President Bush. “There’s been massive disappointment in Ahmadinejad’s stewardship over the years.”

Even so, something else was also at play: the wistful comments of many Iranian protesters who dreamed of better relations with the world. That strand of thought, however slender among the other huge issues, was evident at the protest demonstrations on behalf of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s principal challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi. Sign after sign at his rallies was emblazoned: “A new greeting to the world.”

“Behind closed doors, most Iranian officials have long recognized that the ‘death to America’ culture of 1979 is bankrupt, and that Iran will never achieve its enormous potential as long as relations with the United States remain adversarial,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He and others argue that many Iranian pragmatists and moderates believe that their country in 2009 is facing a now-or-never moment.

“If Tehran’s hardliners are incapable of making nice with an American president named Barack Hussein Obama who preaches mutual respect and wishes them a happy Nowruz, it’s pretty obvious the problem is in Tehran, not Washington,” Mr. Sadjadpour said.

During the Bush years, Iran’s regime was able to coalesce support by uniting the country against a common enemy: President Bush, who called Iran a pillar of the “axis of evil” in a speech that alienated many of the very reformers whom the United States was trying to woo. For much of his administration, even as he strengthened Iran by toppling Iran’s nemesis Saddam Hussein, Mr. Bush struck a confrontational public line against the Iranian regime.

The result, according to many experts here and in Iran, was that Iranians, including reformers, swallowed their criticism of the hard-line regime and united against the common enemy. Iranians with reformist sympathies even began advising Americans to stop openly supporting them, lest that open them to attack as pawns of America.

Mr. Obama seemed to be taking that kind of advice to heart last week — to a fault, perhaps, as even some Democratic allies said. He kept his remarks about the Iranian election so cool and detached that Republicans quickly attacked him as showing weakness in the defense of democracy.

On the other hand, he had already put in play a tool that the reformists could use in their internal debate — the notion that this could be the best time in many years in which to seek better relations with America.

Even before he was elected, Mr. Obama struck a conciliatory note towards Iran, saying that the idea of not talking to adversaries was “ridiculous.” And while the substance of his Iran policy does not vary that much from Mr. Bush’s — the United States still seeks to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, still criticizes Iran’s support for militant Islamist organizations, still allies itself staunchly with Israel — he has taken pains to flavor that policy with different atmospherics.

He has offered direct talks between his administration and the Iranian regime, without preconditions. He has videotaped a message directly for the Iranian people, on the celebration of Nowruz, the 12-day holiday that marks the new year in Iran. In the video, with subtitles in Persian, he directed his comments not just to the Iranian people but to Iran’s leaders, and referred to Iran as “the Islamic Republic,” further flagging a willingness to deal with the clerical government. He even went so far as to quote from the vaunted Persian poet Saadi, dead for 700 years now.

Mr. Obama has also removed the ban against American diplomats around the world consorting with their Iranian counterparts. And in his Cairo address June 4, he accepted responsibility for America’s part in the enmity between the United States and Iran.

“In the middle of the cold war, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government,” Mr. Obama said — a reference to the 1953 coup in which an Iranian prime minister, under whom Iran had nationalized its oil industry, was overthrown and the now-despised Shah was restored to power.

The response to Mr. Obama’s overtures from the Iranian alliance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad has been, largely, silence.

But Afshin Molavi, an Iran expert at the New America Foundation, said that the vast majority of Iranians today want better relations with the United States, and middle-class Iranians in particular, he said, were hoping that the Iranian regime would capitalize on Mr. Obama’s much talked about unclenched fist.

Even though Mr. Moussavi shared the leadership’s commitment to Iran’s nuclear program, many middle-class Iranians believed that he would be better able than Mr. Ahmadinejad to strike a warmer relationship with Mr. Obama, said Mr. Molavi, author of “Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys Across Iran” (Norton). “When the election results were announced, for the Iranian middle class, it was not only an insult and an injustice, but it dashed their hopes for a U.S.-Iran rapprochement and told them that they would continue to be isolated in the world.”

In his campaign, Mr. Moussavi used many tactics that echoed Mr. Obama’s. He pledged to re-engage politically with the United States; he used posters of himself and his wife side by side, and he hired a young chief strategist who said he looked to the Obama campaign for ideas. Mr. Moussavi, like Mr. Obama, even used social networks on the Internet to campaign. And once the count was in, his supporters found new uses for the networks in their uniquely Iranian fight.

    Gauging Whether Obama Is Creating Openings in Iran, NYT, 21.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/weekinreview/21cooper.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Violence Grips Tehran Amid Crackdown

 

June 21, 2009
The New York Times
By THE NEW YORK TIMES

 

TEHRAN — Police officers used sticks and tear gas to force back thousands of demonstrators under plumes of black smoke in the capital on Saturday, a day after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said there would be “bloodshed” if street protests continued over the disputed presidential election.

Separately, state-run media reported that three people were wounded when a suicide bomber attacked at the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the southern part of the city, several miles from the scheduled protests. The report of the blast could not be independently confirmed.

The violence unfolded on a day of extraordinary tension across Iran. The opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, appeared at a demonstration in southern Tehran and called for a general strike if he were to be arrested. “I am ready for martyrdom,” he told supporters.

Mr. Moussavi again called for nullifying the election’s results, and opposition protesters swore to continue pressing their claims of a stolen election against Iran’s embattled and increasingly impatient clerical leadership in Iran’s worst crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In Washington, President Obama called the government’s reaction “violent and unjust,” and, quoting Martin Luther King Jr., warned again that the world was watching what happened in Tehran.

Iran’s divisions played out on the streets. Regular security forces stood back and urged protesters to go home to avoid bloodshed, while the feared pro-government militia, the Basij, beat protesters with clubs and, witnesses said, electric prods.

In some places, the protesters pushed back, rushing the militia in teams of hundreds: At least three Basijis were pitched from their motorcycles, which were then set on fire. The protesters included many women, some of whom berated as “cowards” men who fled the Basijis. There appeared to be tens of thousands of protesters in Tehran, far fewer than the mass demonstrations early last week, most likely because of intimidation.

The street violence appeared to grow more intense as night fell, and there were unconfirmed reports of multiple deaths. A BBC journalist at Enghelab (Revolution) Square reported seeing one person shot by the security forces. An amateur video posted on YouTube showed a woman bleeding to death after being shot by a Basiji, the text posted with the video said.

“If they open fire on people and if there is bloodshed, people will get angrier,” said a protester, Ali, 40. “They are out of their minds if they think with bloodshed they can crush the movement.”

Mr. Obama’s statement was his strongest to date on the post-election turmoil in Iran. Saying that “each and every innocent life” lost would be mourned, he added: “Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

“Martin Luther King once said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian people’s belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.”

There had been varying reports in the hours leading up to the opposition rally about whether it would be called off in the face of the government’s threatened crackdown. State television reported that Mr. Moussavi had called it off, but some of his supporters, posting on social networking sites, urged demonstrators to gather.

Journalists were banned from leaving their offices to report on the protests. A reporter from an American news organization said she had been called by a member of the Basij militia warning her not to go to the venue for the Saturday rally because the situation would be dangerous and there could be fatalities.

The authorities were also reported on Saturday to have renewed an offer of a partial recount of the ballots in the disputed election — an offer that the opposition has previously rejected. A letter from Mr. Moussavi published on one of his Web sites late Saturday repeated his demand for the election to be annulled.

“The Iranian nation will not believe this unjust and illegal” act, he said in the letter, which was addressed to the powerful Guardian Council, a panel of clerics which oversees and certifies election results. Making his case for electoral fraud, he charged that thousands of his representatives had been expelled from polling stations and some mobile polling stations had ballot boxes filled with fake ballots.

In a long and hard-line sermon on Friday, Ayatollah Khamenei declared the June 12 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad valid and warned that demonstration leaders “would be responsible for bloodshed and chaos” if demonstrations continued.

Regional analysts said that, by calling for an end to the rallies, Ayatollah Khamenei had inserted himself directly into the confrontation, invoking his own prestige and that of Iran’s clerical leaders. But his speech also laid the groundwork to suppress the opposition movement with a harder hand, characterizing any further protests as being against the Islamic republic itself.

Iran’s National Security Council reinforced Ayatollah Khamenei’s warning on Saturday, state media reported, telling Mr. Moussavi to “refrain from provoking illegal rallies.”

The demand came in a letter from the head of the council after a formal complaint by Mr. Moussavi that law enforcement agencies had failed to protect protesters.

“It is your duty not to incite and invite the public to illegal gatherings; otherwise, you will be responsible for its consequences,” the letter said, according to state media.

On Saturday morning, security forces — regular and riot police officers, and the Basij — were deployed in huge numbers around Tehran and, unconfirmed reports said, other major Iranian cities. The reports of confrontations came not only from northern Tehran, a hotbed for the opposition, but in the south, generally considered more supportive of Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Amateur video posted to the Web showed scenes of chaos and gunfire, some of it as vividly violent as in the clashes on Monday that left at least seven people dead. One video posted on the BBC Farsi service showed streets on fire and a large crowd fleeing amid several rounds of semiautomatic gunfire. A photo showed the riot police repelling demonstrators with a hand-held water cannon.

The Basij militia completely blocked off Enghelab Square, one major gathering ground for the protesters. They are less accountable than regular security forces and, many witnesses said, were far more violent on Saturday.

“Please go home,” one regular officer told protesters. “We are scared of the Basijis, too.”

One woman who lives off Vali Asr Square, near where the protests took place, said Basijis beat and kicked anyone outside, shouting at them to return to their houses.

“The streets near our house were full of Basijis wearing helmets and holding batons,” she said.

The government warned that it would step up the pressure on the opposition from its regular security forces if it continued to stage demonstrations.

“We acted with leniency, but I think from today on, we should resume law and confront more seriously,” Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghadam said on state television. “The events have become exhausting, bothersome and intolerable. I want them to take the police cautions seriously because we will definitely show a serious confrontation against those who violate rules.”

In a measure of the scale of the opposition’s complaints, one losing candidate in the June 12 election, Mohsen Rezai, a conservative former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, claimed to have won between 3.5 million and 7 million votes compared with the 680,000 accorded to him in the first announcement of results a week ago, state-run Press TV reported Saturday.

Witnesses said that Mohammad Ghoochani, a prominent journalist and editor in chief of several reformist publications that had been shut down, was arrested Saturday by the authorities. There were no further details of his condition or location.

The authorities had also invited the three opposition candidates to attend a meeting on Saturday with the 12-member Guardian Council, the panel of clerics which oversees and certifies election results. But only one candidate — Mr. Rezai — attended, Press TV said.

The panel has been presented with 646 complaints of electoral irregularities, the authorities have said.

Mr. Moussavi has expressed mistrust of the panel, accusing some of its members of campaigning before the election for Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Press TV quoted Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the council’s spokesman, as saying the body was investigating complaints including shortages and delays in the supply of ballot papers, the denial of access to polling stations by candidates’ representatives and intimidation and bribery of voters.

“Although the Guardian Council is not legally obliged,” Mr. Kadkhodaei was quoted as saying, “we are ready to recount 10 percent of the ballot boxes randomly in the presence of representatives of the candidates.”

 

This article was written by Robert F. Worth in Beirut, Sharon Otterman in New York and Alan Cowell in Paris based on first-hand accounts from Tehran.

    Violence Grips Tehran Amid Crackdown, NYT, 21.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/world/middleeast/21iran.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama to Iran's Leaders: Stop 'Unjust' Actions

 

June 20, 2009
Filed at 2:44 p.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is challenging Iran's government to halt ''all violent and unjust actions against its own people.''

His comments Saturday came as a postelection crackdown against protesters in Tehran grew more violent.

Police in the Iranian capital beat protesters and fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands who rallied in open defiance of Iran's clerical government. At least seven people have died since the unrest began days ago.

Obama said in a statement that the universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected. He said the U.S. ''stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.''

    Obama to Iran's Leaders: Stop 'Unjust' Actions, NYT, 20.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/20/us/politics/AP-US-Obama-Iran.html

 

 

 

 

Obama Resists Calls for a Tougher Stance on Iran

 

June 20, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER

 

WASHINGTON — With Iran on a razor’s edge after a week of swelling protests, the Obama administration has fended off pressure from both parties to respond more forcefully to the disputed election there. But if Iranian authorities carry out their latest threat of a more sweeping crackdown, the White House would reconsider its carefully calibrated tone, officials said Friday.

Administration officials said events this weekend in Tehran — when demonstrators plan to rally in defiance of the authorities — would be a telling indicator of whether President Obama would join European leaders and lawmakers on Capitol Hill in more harshly condemning the tactics of the Iranian government.

Congressional Republicans and conservative foreign-policy experts stepped up their pressure on the White House to take a firmer stand in support of the demonstrators, even as Mr. Obama worked to keep Democrats from breaking openly with him on Iran.

For now, administration officials said they had not been swayed by criticism that Mr. Obama’s refusal to speak out more had broken faith with democracy advocates in Tehran, or by the fact that European leaders and even members of his own party in Congress had responded more assertively than he had.

In an interview with CBS News on Friday, Mr. Obama spoke cautiously about warnings by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of bloodshed if the protests go on. “I’m very concerned, based on some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made, that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama, officials said, was determined to react to events as they unfold, rather than make statements that might play well politically but hinder his longer-term foreign-policy goals. The administration still hopes to pursue diplomatic engagement with Iran on its nuclear program.

Still, one senior official acknowledged that a bloody crackdown would scramble the administration’s calculations. The shadow of Tiananmen Square — in which Chinese tanks and troops crushed a flowering democracy movement in Beijing — has hung over the White House this week.

Mr. Obama continued to face pressure at home not to miss an opportunity to align the United States with a potentially historic shift in Iran. On Friday, both houses of Congress threw full support behind the rights of protesters to challenge the election results. In the House, lawmakers voted 405 to 1 to adopt a nonbinding resolution condemning the violence against demonstrators. The Senate passed a similar resolution later in the day.

“This resolution is not about American interests,” said Representative Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat who is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It’s about American values, which I believe are universal values: the values of the rule of law; of participatory democracy; about individual liberty and about justice.”

The resolution, though firm, was softened after negotiations between Mr. Berman and the chairman of the House Republican Conference, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, who was pushing for a tougher rebuke of the Iranian government. Democrats were aware of White House concerns about statements that could open the United States to charges of interference, and administration officials said the resolution largely echoed Mr. Obama’s public comments. “My guiding principle on this resolution was, Do no harm,” Mr. Berman said in a telephone interview.

While he said the United States was not taking sides, other lawmakers were. Representative Bob Inglis, Republican of South Carolina, said the election had clearly been fraudulent. “Rigged elections don’t produce outcomes that people can believe in,” he said. “We the people of the United States should stand boldly with the people in Tehran and elsewhere in Iran who are saying, ‘We yearn to breathe free,’ who want to govern themselves; this is their moment.”

The European Union also took a markedly tougher line than Mr. Obama, issuing a statement condemning the violence that resulted in loss of life. The union’s 27 national leaders also “condemned the crackdown against journalists, media outlets, communications and protesters,” which they said were “in contrast to the relatively open and encouraging period in the run-up to the election.”

Speaking afterward, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain said: “It is for Iran now to show the world that the elections are fair. It is also the wish of the world that the repression and the brutality that we have seen in the last few days is not something that is going to be repeated.”

The Obama administration has resisted such language, worrying that full-throated American backing for the protesters would harm their cause by making them more susceptible to being labeled by Iranian officials as tools of Washington. Administration officials note that their muted response has not prevented the turnout at protests from growing by the day.

Mr. Obama has won support from across party lines. Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state, said on Fox News: “I think the president has handled this well. Anything that the United States says that puts us totally behind one of the contenders, behind Moussavi, would be a handicap for that person,” he said. Mir Hussein Moussavi is the main challenger to the declared victor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Some experts on Iran say a stronger United States response could provoke a violent backlash.

“If we overtly take sides, the regime could well react with a massive and bloody crackdown on the demonstrators using the pretext that they are acting against an American-led coup,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The United States, he said, should quietly lobby other countries, from Turkey and India to France and Japan, to press Tehran about human rights abuses and the fairness of the election. It is not clear if the United States has done that, but a senior official said the White House understood if “our allies choose to lean in a different direction.”

Mr. Obama’s cautious approach, officials said, was also driven by a belief that Iran is unlikely to loosen its commitment to its nuclear program, regardless of who ends up in the president’s office. The ultimate authority over that, they note, resides with Ayatollah Khamenei.

Yet some Iran experts argue that the administration may soon have to re-evaluate its view of the supreme leader, who they say has been tarnished by his erratic response to the tumult in Tehran.

“If Ahmadinejad survives, it will be on the back of a Tiananmen-style crackdown,” said Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University. “If Moussavi prevails, it will be on a wave of reformist sentiment.”

 

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting from Washington, and Stephen Castle from Brussels.

    Obama Resists Calls for a Tougher Stance on Iran, NYT, 20.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/20/world/middleeast/20policy.html

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. to Confront, Not Board, North Korean Ships

 

June 17, 2009
The new York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER

 

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will order the Navy to hail and request permission to inspect North Korean ships at sea suspected of carrying arms or nuclear technology, but will not board them by force, senior administration officials said Monday.

The new effort to intercept North Korean ships, and track them to their next port, where Washington will press for the inspections they refused at sea, is part of what the officials described as “vigorous enforcement” of the United Nations Security Council resolution approved Friday.

The planned American action stops just short of the forced inspections that North Korea has said that it would regard as an act of war. Still, the administration’s plans, if fully executed, would amount to the most confrontational approach taken by the United States in dealing with North Korea in years, and carries a risk of escalating tensions at a time when North Korea has been carrying out missile and nuclear tests.

In discussing President Obama’s strategy on Monday, administration officials said that the United States would report any ship that refused inspection to the Security Council. While the Navy and American intelligence agencies continued to track the ship, the administration would mount a vigorous diplomatic effort to insist that the inspections be carried out by any country that allowed the vessel into port.

The officials said that they believed that China, once a close cold war ally, would also enforce the new sanctions, which also require countries to refuse to refuel or resupply ships suspected of carrying out arms and nuclear technology.

“China will implement the resolution earnestly,” said Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said.

One official in Washington said the administration was told by their Chinese counterparts that China “would not have signed on to this resolution unless they intended to enforce it.”

The strategy of ordering ships to stop but not provoking military action by boarding them was negotiated among Washington, Beijing and Moscow. It is unclear to what degree South Korea or Japan, at various times bitter adversaries of North Korea, would order their naval forces to join in the effort to intercept suspected shipments at sea, largely because of fears about what would happen if North Korean ships opened fire.

A senior administration official said Monday evening that the United States believed that it already had sufficient intelligence and naval assets in the Sea of Japan to track North Korean ships and flights. The country’s cargo fleet is relatively small, and the North is wary, officials say, of entrusting shipments banned by the United Nations to Panamanian-flagged freighters or those from other countries.

Until now, American interceptions of North Korean ships have been rare. Early in the Bush administration, a shipment of missiles to Yemen was discovered, but the United States permitted the shipment to go through after the Yemenis said they had paid for the missiles and expected delivery. Under the new United Nations resolution, American officials said they now had the authority to seize such shipments.

The senior administration officials outlined Mr. Obama’s approach a day before the president was to meet for the first time on Tuesday with South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, a conservative who has been far more confrontational in his dealings with North Korea than most of his predecessors.

The resolution authorizes nations to seek to stop suspect North Korean shipments on the high seas, but they do not authorize forcible boarding or inspections. “The captains will be confronted,” one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing a security operation that America’s key allies had only been partially briefed on.

Even if they refused to allow inspections, the official said, “These guys aren’t going to get very far.”

While the captain of a ship may refuse inspection, as the North Koreans almost certainly would, the Obama administration officials noted that most North Korean vessels have limited range and would have to seek out ports in search of fuel and supplies.

American officials believe that previous North Korean shipments of nuclear technology and missiles have gone undetected. The North Koreans were deeply involved in the construction of a reactor in Syria until September 2007, when the reactor was destroyed in an Israeli air raid. But no ships or aircraft carrying parts for that reactor were ever found.

Mr. Obama’s decisions about North Korea stem from a fundamentally different assessment of the North’s intentions than that of previous administrations. Nearly 16 years of on-and-off negotiations — punctuated by major crises in 1994 and 2003 — were based on an assumption that ultimately, the North was willing to give up its nuclear capability.

A review, carried out by the Obama administration during its first month in office, concluded that North Korea had no intention of trading away what it calls its “nuclear deterrent” in return for food, fuel and security guarantees.

Mr. Obama’s aides have said that while the new president is willing to re-engage in either the talks with North Korea and its neighbors, or in direct bilateral discussions, he will not agree to an incremental dismantlement of the North’s nuclear facilities.

“There are ways to do this that are truly irreversible,” said one of Mr. Obama’s aides, declining to be specific.

North Korea is already working to reverse the dismantlement of some of its facilities negotiated in Mr. Bush’s last days in office.

In the weeks ahead of and after its second nuclear test, conducted May 25, North Korea has disavowed its past commitments to give up those weapons, and said it would never bow to the demands of the United States, its allies, or the United Nations. On Saturday the North said that it would reprocess its remaining stockpile of spent nuclear fuel into plutonium, adding to an existing stockpile believed sufficient to make six or eight weapons.

Such announcements have heightened fears that North Korea’s next step could be to sell more of its nuclear or missile technology, one of the few profitable exports of a broken, starving country. The result is that Mr. Obama, in his first year in office, is putting into effect many of the harshest steps against North Korea that were advocated by conservatives in the Bush White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney.

The new approach, officials said, will also exploit elements of the Security Council resolution to try to close down the subsidiaries of North Korean missile makers in China, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, where the North has its biggest customers.

 

Xiyun Yang contributed reporting from Beijing.

    U.S. to Confront, Not Board, North Korean Ships, NYT, 17.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/17/world/asia/17korea.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama: Iranian Voters' Voices Should Be Heard

 

June 16, 2009
Filed at 8:51 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says the world is inspired by the outpouring of Iranian political dissent, but Sen. John McCain said Obama isn't speaking out strongly enough.

Obama said Monday an inquiry into the disputed presidential election should go ahead without violence and said he didn't know who rightfully won the Iranian balloting, but that Iranians have a right to feel their votes mattered. McCain, who lost to Obama in last year's U.S. presidential election, called on the president to turn up his rhetoric.

''He should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed sham of an election and that the Iranian people have been deprived of their rights,'' the Arizona Republican said Tuesday on a network news show.

But the leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee thinks the Obama administration's arms-length stance is just right.

''I think for the moment our position is to allow the Iranians to work out their situation,'' said Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. ''When popular revolutions occur, they come right from the people.'' He said he did not think it would be wise for the United States ''to become heavily involved in the election at this point.''

A spokesman for Iran's Guardian Council had said earlier Tuesday that it was ready to recount specific ballot boxes. The 12-member Guardian Council include clerics and experts in Islamic law.

Obama's remarks marked the most extensive U.S. response to Friday's voting, and appeared calculated to acknowledge the outpouring of dissent in Iran without claiming any credit.

''It would be wrong for me to be silent on what we've seen on the television the last few days,'' Obama told reporters at the White House. He added, however, that ''sometimes, the United States can be a handy political football.''

The new American president is personally hugely popular in Iran, and all candidates in this year's surprisingly lively presidential election backed off on criticism of the United States. But the larger idea of the United States -- and its world influence, backed by massive military power -- remains highly divisive. Any candidate or popular movement seen to have the express backing of the United States would probably be doomed.

''What I would say to those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was,'' Obama said. ''And they should know that the world is watching.''

Lugar said if the U.S. tried to play a more aggressive role there, it's likely the clerics would use pent up resentment of the United States there to consolidate their own power. ''The clerics are in charge. They are the government. The election is interesting, but not decisive,'' he said.

McCain said the Iranian people ''should not be subjected to four more years of (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad and the radical Muslim clerics.''

Iran's state radio said seven people died in shooting that erupted after people at an ''unauthorized gathering'' Monday night in western Tehran ''tried to attack a military location.''

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians streamed through the capital streets, and the fist-waving protesters denounced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim to a landslide re-election. Standing on rooftops, pro-government gunmen opened fire on a group of protesters who had tried to storm the militia's compound.

Obama campaigned on a promise to extend a hand to the United States' main rival for influence in the Middle East, and the prospect of a different relationship with the United States was a constant, if largely unspoken, theme in the hardline Ahmadinejad's contest with a pro-reform challenger.

Obama was asked whether the violence had changed his outlook on the value of outreach to the clerical regime. While denouncing violence against demonstrators, Obama said he remains committed to what he called ''tough, hardheaded diplomacy'' with a nation that could soon possess nuclear weapons.

The United States has a broader interest in stopping Iran from developing those weapons or exporting terrorism, Obama said.

''We will continue to pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries, and we'll see where it takes us,'' he said.

The United States urged Iran on Monday to agree to a meeting with the six key nations trying to ensure that its nuclear program is peaceful.

U.S. deputy ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo told the U.N. Security Council that Iran has not responded to the request from the five permanent council members -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France -- and Germany for new talks, which would be the first international discussion on Iran's nuclear program since Obama took office in January.

''The United States remains committed to direct diplomacy with Iran to resolve issues of concern to the international community and will engage on the basis of mutual respect,'' DiCarlo said. ''The United States will be a full participant in these discussions and we continue to urge Iran to accept this invitation.''

DiCarlo's comments came hours after Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, urged Iran to ''respond to the U.S. initiative with an equal gesture of goodwill and trust-building.''

In remarks alongside Italy's premier on Monday, Obama called some of Ahmadinejad's past statements ''odious,'' and did not mention the challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, by name. Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be ''wiped from the map'' and questioned the extent of Jewish extermination in the Holocaust.

Ahmadinejad's challenger claims he was robbed of the presidency and has called for the results to be canceled.

Obama did not go that far.

He said peaceful dissent should never be subject to violence, but that he had no way of knowing whether the results were valid. Obama noted that the United States had no election monitors in the country.

He appealed to young Iranians, largely seen as determinative of Iran's political future over the coming five to 10 years. A quarter of the population of some 70 million is 15 years old or younger.

''I want them to know that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do believe that the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected,'' Obama said.

McCain was interviewed on NBC's ''Today'' show and Lugar appeared on CBS's ''The Early Show.''

------

Associated Press writers Philip Elliott and Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report.

    Obama: Iranian Voters' Voices Should Be Heard, NYT, 16.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/16/us/politics/AP-US-US-Iran.html

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

The Uprooted: A Sad Mideast Legacy

 

June 11, 2009
The New York Times

 

To the Editor:

Re “The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention,” by André Aciman (Op-Ed, June 9):

Mr. Aciman hits the nail on the head. President Obama, in his comprehensive speech in Cairo, did not say anything about the estimated 800,000 Jews who were forced to leave Arab countries for refuge in Israel and other lands that would welcome them.

I, too, find it strange that our president mentioned Arab refugees without acknowledging the fact that Jews throughout the Arab world have been victims of anti-Semitism since long before Israel became a state in 1948.

The president and his advisers need to understand that to be an honest broker in forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians, one has to be honest in reminding everyone of historical fact.


(Rabbi) Reuven H. Taff
Sacramento, June 9, 2009



To the Editor:

André Aciman’s reminder of how Jews were persecuted and then written out of history in Egypt is familiar to Mizrahi Jews, those from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, many of whose families lived in these areas before the advent of Islam. It’s a familiar story for those Ashkenazi Jews whose families lived in Europe for centuries before Hitler.

It’s high time that the fate of the Jews displaced from Arab countries over the last six decades was factored into the Middle East peace negotiations.

Helen Epstein
Lexington, Mass., June 9, 2009

The writer is a journalist and author of the memoirs “Children of the Holocaust” and “Where She Came From.”



To the Editor:

It is tragic that Jews were forced out of Egypt so many years ago. André Aciman, however, does not mention that the Palestinians were forced out of what had been their lands and homes in Palestine.

It is interesting that Mr. Aciman says Jews had lived peacefully and were integrated into Egyptian society until they were forced out about 50 years ago. It is obvious that there was a direct connection to what was happening in Palestine/Israel, with the great catastrophe being endured by the Palestinians who had been forced from their homes.

This is not to say that the treatment of the Jews in Egypt was justified; two wrongs do not make a right. But in the interest of accurate reporting and to better understand the whole situation, it is essential to include all of the relevant facts.

Sarah Fike
Berkeley, Calif., June 9, 2009



To the Editor:

André Aciman’s article reminded us of what happened in Libya, where we were born. Most of the Jews of Libya fled after post-World War II Arab pogroms; those who remained were forced to leave in 1967.

Personal property was left behind and expropriated, but so, too, was communal property. One of the telling statements we heard when conducting oral histories was, “I would never go back ... Qaddafi destroyed the cemeteries.”

Most of these Jews found refuge in Israel, where they arrived penniless. Our grandfather, a successful merchant in Libya, struggled in 1949 to find work delivering milk. The children of the Jews of Libya have become functioning members of Israeli society and long ago discarded the role of “refugee.” One cannot forget that nearly half the population of Israel is made up of refugees from Arab countries and their descendants.

Vivienne Roumani-Denn
Maurice Roumani
New York, June 9, 2009

The writers are, respectively, director of the film “The Last Jews of Libya” and author of “The Jews of Libya.”



To the Editor:

Thank you for this moving article about the Jews in Egypt. There are two factors that should also be considered. Israel always welcomed Jewish refugees into its society. In stark contrast, Palestinians have been kept in refugee camps throughout the Arab world, pawns in the long battle with Israel.

Second, the fleeing and expulsion of Jews from Arab lands after 1948, and the destruction of what had been vibrant Jewish communities, are a cultural loss in much of the Arab world that will never be rectified, even in my mother’s native Morocco, which had always had good relations between Jews and Muslims.

Edwin Andrews
Malden, Mass., June 9, 2009



To the Editor:

As an Armenian-American whose parents were born in Egypt, I was intrigued by this commentary on President Obama’s oversight on the plight of Jews forced from Arab lands because of widespread nationalism. However, Jews were not the only victims. Vibrant Christian communities, including Armenians and Greeks, also suffered from discrimination in Arab countries, leading many to flee.

A paucity of cultural diversity has arguably contributed to the Arab radicalism seen today and is a stark reminder of what happens to society when divergent voices are silenced and opinions ignored.

Stephan Pechdimaldji
San Ramon, Calif., June 9, 2009

    The Uprooted: A Sad Mideast Legacy, NYT, 11.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/11/opinion/l11mideast.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Contributor

The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention

 

June 9, 2009
The New York Times
By ANDRÉ ACIMAN

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S speech to the Islamic world was a groundbreaking event. Never before has a young, dynamic American president, beloved both by his countrymen and the nations of the world, extended so timely and eager a hand to a part of the globe that, recently, had seen fewer and fewer reasons to trust us or to wish us well.

As important, Mr. Obama did not mince words. Never before has a president gone over to the Arab world and broadcast its flaws so loudly and clearly: extremism, nuclear weapons programs and a faltering record in human rights, education and economic development — the Arab world gets no passing grades in any of these domains. Mr. Obama even found a moment to mention the plight of Egypt’s harassed Coptic community and to criticize the new wave of Holocaust deniers. And to show he was not playing favorites, he put the Israelis on notice: no more settlements in the occupied territories. He spoke about the suffering of Palestinians. This was no wilting olive branch.

And yet, for all the president’s talk of “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” and shared “principles of justice and progress,” neither he nor anyone around him, and certainly no one in the audience, bothered to notice one small detail missing from the speech: he forgot me.

The president never said a word about me. Or, for that matter, about any of the other 800,000 or so Jews born in the Middle East who fled the Arab and Muslim world or who were summarily expelled for being Jewish in the 20th century. With all his references to the history of Islam and to its (questionable) “proud tradition of tolerance” of other faiths, Mr. Obama never said anything about those Jews whose ancestors had been living in Arab lands long before the advent of Islam but were its first victims once rampant nationalism swept over the Arab world.

Nor did he bother to mention that with this flight and expulsion, Jewish assets were — let’s call it by its proper name — looted. Mr. Obama never mentioned the belongings I still own in Egypt and will never recover. My mother’s house, my father’s factory, our life in Egypt, our friends, our books, our cars, my bicycle. We are, each one of us, not just defined by the arrangement of protein molecules in our cells, but also by the things we call our own. Take away our things and something in us dies. Losing his wealth, his home, the life he had built, killed my father. He didn’t die right away; it took four decades of exile to finish him off.

Mr. Obama had harsh things to say to the Arab world about its treatment of women. And he said much about America’s debt to Islam. But he failed to remind the Egyptians in his audience that until 50 years ago a strong and vibrant Jewish community thrived in their midst. Or that many of Egypt’s finest hospitals and other institutions were founded and financed by Jews. It is a shame that he did not remind the Egyptians in the audience of this, because, in most cases — and especially among those younger than 50 — their memory banks have been conveniently expunged of deadweight and guilt. They have no recollections of Jews.

In Alexandria, my birthplace and my home, all streets bearing Jewish names have been renamed. A few years ago, the Library of Alexandria put on display an Arabic translation of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” perhaps the most anti-Semitic piece of prose ever written. Today, for the record, there are perhaps four Jews left in Alexandria.

When the last Jew dies, the temples and religious artifacts and books that were the property of what was once probably the wealthiest Jewish community on the Mediterranean will go to the Egyptian government — not to me, or to my children, or to any of the numberless descendants of Egyptian Jews.

It is strange that our president, a man so versed in history and so committed to the truth, should have omitted mentioning the Jews of Egypt. He either forgot, or just didn’t know, or just thought it wasn’t expedient or appropriate for this venue. But for him to speak in Cairo of a shared effort “to find common ground ... and to respect the dignity of all human beings” without mentioning people in my position would be like his speaking to the residents of Berlin about the future of Germany and forgetting to mention a small detail called World War II.

 

André Aciman, a professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center, is the author of the memoir “Out of Egypt.”

    The Exodus Obama Forgot to Mention, NYT, 9.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/opinion/09aciman.html

 

 

 

 

 

Netanyahu Wants "Maximum Understanding" With U.S.

 

June 7, 2009
Filed at 5:34 a.m. ET
By REUTERS
The New York Times

 

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would strive for "maximum understanding" with Washington on peace issues but gave no sign he intends to bow to its demand to halt settlement expansion.

Under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama over settlements in the occupied West Bank and Palestinian statehood, which Netanyahu has not endorsed, the Israeli leader said he would set out his policies in a major speech later this month.

"I want to make clear, it is our intention to achieve peace with the Palestinians and with the countries of the Arab world while attempting to reach maximum understanding with the United States and our friends in the world," Netanyahu said.

"I aspire to a stable peace based on the solid foundations of the security of the state of Israel and its citizens," he told his right-wing cabinet at its weekly meeting.

His comments, which stopped short of a pledge to end all differences with the United States on peacemaking, left open the possibility of an ongoing rift between Israel and its main ally over issues central to an Israeli-Palestinian accord.

Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, is to begin a visit to Israel and the West Bank on Monday. Western and Israeli officials said the White House was formulating a blueprint for a renewed peace process that could be presented early next month.

Without citing a precise date, Netanyahu said: "Next week, I will make a major diplomatic speech in which I will present to the citizens of Israel our principles for achieving peace and security."

A spokesman said Netanyahu was referring to the Israeli work week starting on Sunday, June 14.

 

SECURITY

By mentioning security, Netanyahu again highlighted an issue he has called paramount to Israel's approach to peace with the Palestinians, whom he has said should have self-government but only limited powers of sovereignty.

In a speech on Thursday to Muslims, Obama said Washington "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" and said their expansion undermines efforts to achieve peace.

Israeli officials said Netanyahu has no intention of freezing all settlement activity which would risk the collapse of his coalition.

They said he would try to ease friction with the United States by removing West Bank roadblocks that hinder Palestinians and small Jewish outposts that are not authorized by the government.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, head of the center-left Labour Party in Netanyahu's government, held out the possibility of a softening in Israel's position on Palestinian statehood in return for an easing of U.S. pressure over settlements.

Referring to a 2003, U.S.-endorsed peace plan, Barak told reporters the government should declare it is "committed to all previous agreements signed by previous governments, including the 'road map', whose goal is two states for two peoples."

"I believe such a position will bring the differences over settlements back to normal proportions," he said.

 

(Editing by Joseph Nasr and Jon Hemming)

(For blogs and links on Israeli politics and other Israeli and Palestinian news, go to http://blogs.reuters.com/axismundi )

    Netanyahu Wants "Maximum Understanding" With U.S., R, 7.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/06/07/us/politics/politics-us-palestinians-israel.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Calls North Korea ‘Extraordinarily Provocative’

 

June 7, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY, STEVEN ERLANGER and ALAN COWELL

 

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — President Obama signaled a stronger approach toward North Korea on Saturday, saying that Pyongyang had been “extraordinarily provocative” with its latest nuclear and missile tests and had shown no readiness to engage in “serious diplomacy.”

He was speaking at a joint news conference with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France hours before the two men joined leaders of Britain and Canada to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, that hastened the fall of Nazism.

After a journey marked through the Middle East and Europe marked by pleas for peace and harsh words for those who would deny the Holocaust, President Obama emphasized common ground with President Sarkozy on such key issues as the Middle East and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran. The two men met in the Normandy city of Caen before the D-Day commemoration.

Labeling North Korea’s behavior “extraordinarily provocative,” Mr. Obama said: “Diplomacy has to involve the other side engaging in a serious way in trying to solve problems, and we have not seen that kind of reaction from North Korea,” Mr. Obama said. “We are going to take a very hard look on how we move forward on these issues,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t think there should be an assumption that we will simply continue down a path in which North Korea is constantly destabilizing the region and we just react in the same ways.”

He added: “We are not intending to continue a policy of rewarding provocation.”

From discussions in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, through a keynote address in Cairo on Thursday and a visit to the former concentration camp at Buchenwald in Germany on Friday, Mr. Obama has woven together assertive demands for a halt to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a call for a “new beginning” between the United States and the Muslim world and an insistence that America’s bond with Israel is unbreakable.

Referring again to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Saturday, Mr. Obama said he did “not expect that a 60-year-old problem will be solved overnight.”

During his trip much attention has focused on his call for Israel to halt the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. He repeated that demand Saturday and urged Palestinians to “renounce violence and incitement” and improve governance.

He also said that, given their political and economic importance, “Arab states have to be part of the process.”

Mr. Sarkozy, who met last Wednesday with visiting Iranian officials in Paris said he had tried to persuade them to respond to Mr. Obama’s overtures to Tehran. Many in the west are alarmed by Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, saying it is designed to build a nuclear weapon. But Tehran says the program is for civilian purposes only.

Referring to Iran, Mr. Sarkozy continued: “We want peace. We want dialogue. We want to help them develop. But we do not want military nuclear weapons to spread and we are clear on that,” Sarkozy said of Iran, adding that he worries about “insane statements” by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Obama said there must be “tough diplomacy” with Tehran.

The two leaders shared a light-hearted moment for the TV cameras when President Obama said Mr. Sarkozy spoke quickly and Mr. Sarkozy quipped that Mr. Obama was also quick to understand.

The visit to Normandy on Saturday revolved around the commemoration of the vast military operation code-named Overlord 65 years ago.

On that day, 156,000 troops — 73,000 of them Americans — took part in history’s biggest amphibious landing along a 50-mile stretch of beaches supported by 6,900 vessels ships and 11,590 airplanes, according to British figures. At the same time American airborne troops dropped by parachute in Nazi-occupied France as the allies began a campaign across Europe that ended with Germany’s surrender 11 months later.

More than 3,000 allied troops died in the first two days of the campaign to turn the tide of World War II. But just as many French civilians, caught up in the conflict, perished in the same period, according to a new study by British historian Anthony Beevor.

And today, at the American military cemetery in this seaside village above the sands where the landing began, and which President Obama planned to visit on Saturday, 9,387 headstones mark the resting places of American soldiers who died in the invasion and its aftermath.

In brilliant sunshine on Saturday, as waves crashed against Omaha Beach below, hundreds of people arrived at the cemetery. The age of the gathering crowd was striking, with far fewer World War II veterans on hand than children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who landed here 65 years ago.

“Many of the veterans of World War II are in the sunset of their years,” Mr. Obama said as he made his way toward Normandy, where his great uncle, a World War II veteran, was set to join him. “So having an opportunity to acknowledge them once again, and the sacrifices they made, was very important to me.”

Hyrum Smith Shumway, an 87-year-old Army veteran from Eldersburg, Md., made his fourth trip to Normandy on Saturday. His son, grandson and great-grandson accompanied him and stood by as Mr. Shumway reprised his role 65 years ago.

“We climbed up the hill. We crossed here, where the cemeteries are now,” said Mr. Shumway, who was a 2nd lieutenant in the First Army Division, 18th Regiment, Company B. “We were the second ones to land.”

He was 22. Six weeks after D-Day, a mine exploded and blinded him for life. Mr. Shumway said he loved combat, but now longs for peace. He is hopeful that Mr. Obama will help achieve that goal for the United States.

“I think it’s wonderful that he has come over here to try to make peace in Israel and with the Muslims,” said Mr. Shumway, whose jacket was adorned with a Bronze Star and a Legion of Honor medal. “He’s sure a good speaker, I hope he’s able to bring peace to the world, but I don’t know that he will.”

Before Mr. Obama’s arrival in Normandy, the commemoration had been clouded by a diplomatic brouhaha when Britain’s Royal Family let it be known that Queen Elizabeth II — the only living head of state who served in uniform during World War II the Second World War — had not been invited.

As a face-saving device for Britain’s royal family, which the White house helped to mediate, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, was set to attend along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, fresh from a bruising battle over his political future.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Sarkozy were accompanied by their wives, Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who hugged when they met in Caen.

The visit to France crowned a journey during which President Obama intensified his pledge to unlock the Middle East stalemate, and announced that he would send an envoy next week to pursue his call for a two-state solution. And, as he toured the former concentration camp at Buchenwald on Friday, he said the camp served as a lesson to “be ever-vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time.”

Also on Friday, the president met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on the contentious issues of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, the nuclear program in Iran and the global financial crisis. But he quickly moved to the next stop of a trip built on his biography, visiting the site of Buchenwald, not far from where his great-uncle helped liberate prisoners in World War II.

“To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened — a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful,” Mr. Obama said. “This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.”

As he walked by the crematory ovens, barbed-wire fences and guard towers at Buchenwald, Mr. Obama paid tribute to those who died at the camp and others, saying, “They could not have known how the nation of Israel would rise out of the destruction of the Holocaust and the strong, enduring bonds between that great nation and my own.”

 

Jeff Zeleny reported from Colleville-Sur-Mer, France, and Steven Erlanger and Alan Cowell from Paris. Nicholas Kulish contributed reporting from Weimar, Germany.

    Obama Calls North Korea ‘Extraordinarily Provocative’, NYT, 7.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/world/europe/07prexy.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Obama says D-Day saved world from evil

 

Sat Jun 6, 2009
10:20am EDT
Reuters
By Ross Colvin

 

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama paid homage to the heroes of D-Day on Saturday, saying their assault on Normandy's beaches exactly 65 years ago had helped save the world from evil and tyranny.

Addressing stooped, white-haired veterans, Obama said the Second World War represented a special moment in history when nations fought together to battle a murderous ideology.

"We live in a world of competing beliefs and claims about what is true," Obama said. "In such a world, it is rare for a struggle to emerge that speaks to something universal about humanity. The Second World War did that."

His visit to Normandy came at the end of a rapid tour through Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany and France, where Obama has tried to reach out to the Muslim world and press for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking in a giant U.S. military cemetery at Colleville, where 9,387 American soldiers lie, Obama said the war against Nazi Germany laid the way for years of peace and prosperity.

"It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the twentieth century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide," he said.

The Colleville cemetery, with its rows of white crosses and stars of David, overlooks the Omaha Beach landing where U.S. forces on June 6, 1944, suffered their greatest casualties in the assault against heavily fortified German defenses.

 

HUMAN DESTINY

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined Obama at Saturday's ceremony held under bright skies -- a stark contrast to the winds and rain that marked D-Day.

Obama has been seeking to repair ties with France and other European states who were alienated by his predecessor George W. Bush's go-it-alone diplomacy, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and his policies on climate change.

Earlier on Saturday he held talks with Sarkozy, where the two said they were determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Obama also promised an uncompromising stance against North Korea, which tested a nuclear bomb last month.

In his speech, Obama said D-Day showed that human destiny was not determined by forces beyond its control but by individual choices and joint action.

On a more personal note, he also saluted his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who arrived in Normandy a month after D-Day, and also his great uncle, Charles Payne, who was in the first American division during the war and was present on Saturday.

"No man who shed blood or lost a brother would say that war is good. But all know that this war was essential," he said.

It has become a tradition for American presidents to visit Normandy. Ronald Reagan went to the D-Day beaches the 40th anniversary in 1984, Bill Clinton was there 10 years later and George W. Bush was there in both 2002 and in 2004.

"I am not the first American president to come and mark this anniversary, and I likely will not be the last," he said.

    Obama says D-Day saved world from evil, R, 6.6.2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE5546Y220090606

 

 

 

 

 

At a Holocaust Site, Obama Calls Denial ‘Hateful’

 

June 6, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY and NICHOLAS KULISH

 

DRESDEN, Germany — President Obama on Friday intensified his pledge to unlock the Middle East stalemate, sending an envoy next week to pursue his call for a two-state solution, as he toured a former concentration camp that he said served as a lesson to “be ever-vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time.”

The president met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on the contentious issues of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, the nuclear program in Iran and the global financial crisis. But he quickly moved to the next stop of a trip built on his biography, visiting the site of Buchenwald, not far from where his great-uncle helped liberate prisoners in World War II.

“To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened — a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful,” Mr. Obama said. “This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.”

The poignant imagery, which was broadcast on television here, was intended to underscore what Mr. Obama had described the day before in Cairo as America’s “unbreakable” bond with Israel. His speech there, which also called for two states, angered some in Israel because of his forceful opposition to expanding existing settlements on the West Bank.

The president said Friday that “the moment is now” to begin aggressively seeking a Middle East peace settlement. In addition to sending his envoy, George J. Mitchell, to the region, Mr. Obama also put Israelis and Palestinians on notice that it was up to them to make “difficult compromises.”

“The Palestinians have to get serious about creating a security environment that is required for Israel to feel confident,” he said. “Israelis are going to have to take some difficult steps.”

He added: “Ultimately, the United States can’t force peace upon the parties, but what we’ve tried to do is to clear away some of the misunderstandings so we can at least begin to have frank dialogue.”

At a joint news conference at Dresden Castle, the German and American leaders dismissed suggestions that their relationship was chilly.

An early issue of contention between them was diverging approaches for solving the financial crisis. The two leaders talked about an economic stimulus, aides to Mr. Obama said, with Mrs. Merkel specifically calling for “an exit strategy.” In principle, Mr. Obama agreed, his aides said, but no closure was reached. They pledged to work together on climate change, on Middle East peace and on trying to persuade Iran to abandon what the West fears is a nuclear program to build an atomic bomb, but which Tehran says is for civilian purposes.

“With President Barack Obama,” Mrs. Merkel said, “there is actually a unique opportunity now to see to it that this peace process — or let’s perhaps be more careful — this negotiation process is to be revived again.”

There was no sign of progress on Washington’s desire for Europeans to accept prisoners from Guantánamo Bay, as Mr. Obama moves to redeem a pledge to close the detention center in Cuba. Mrs. Merkel said that she was pleased by the administration’s effort to close the prison, but that a decision had not been made about accepting detainees.

“I don’t anticipate it’s going to be resolved in the next two or three months,” Mr. Obama said.

The overnight stop in Dresden, in addition to the bilateral meeting with the chancellor, served as a bookend for the president’s address in Cairo. In many ways, Germany is an ideal location for the themes of reconciliation and fresh starts that Mr. Obama struck in calling for a new alliance to the Islamic world.

As Mr. Obama noted in Dresden, Germany went from a fascist dictatorship to a successful democracy, one prepared to publicly admit past mistakes and learn from them in perhaps a more comprehensive way than any other nation. The message was embodied by Mrs. Merkel’s appearance at Buchenwald.

Indeed, it was Buchenwald, perhaps more than anywhere else, that embodied the contradiction of a civilized society’s descent into organized barbarism. The camp sits just a few miles outside Weimar, one of the country’s leading cultural centers.

As he walked by the crematory ovens, barbed-wire fences and guard towers at Buchenwald, Mr. Obama called the site the “ultimate rebuke” to those who deny or seek to minimize the Holocaust. He paid tribute to those who died at the camp and others, saying, “They could not have known how the nation of Israel would rise out of the destruction of the Holocaust and the strong, enduring bonds between that great nation and my own.”

With his hands behind his back, Mr. Obama walked through the former concentration camp, flanked by Mrs. Merkel and Elie Wiesel, a Nobel peace prize winner, writer and Holocaust survivor, who lived through a death march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald and was at the camp when it was liberated in April 1945.

Mr. Wiesel spoke movingly about the death of his father a few months before the liberation of the camp, calling his journey there “a way of coming and visiting my father’s grave.” He added, “But he had no grave. His grave is somewhere in the sky, which has become in those years the largest cemetery of the Jewish people.”

Mr. Obama also seized upon a personal connection to the camp. His great-uncle, Charles Payne, helped liberate a sub-camp of Buchenwald called Ohrdruf. Mrs. Merkel, who like Mr. Wiesel and Mr. Obama laid a long-stemmed white rose in memory of the dead, spoke of the German responsibility “to do everything possible that something like that never happens again.”

She added, “I bow before all the victims.”

Volkhard Knigge, who directs the Buchenwald foundation and led Mr. Obama and Mrs. Merkel on their tour, said he believed the president’s visit to the site and his speech in Cairo were linked.

“He wanted to underline that he will take a real dialogue very seriously, but on the other hand a real dialogue does not mean appeasement, toward dictatorship or anti-Semitism,” Mr. Knigge said in an interview after the tour.

The fierce, and still contentious, aerial bombing in Dresden at the end of World War II destroyed the baroque Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, which the president and Mrs. Merkel visited on Friday, stopping for a brief prayer. Although they spent several hours together, their appearances renewed speculation here about how friendly they really were beyond the diplomatic smiles and handshakes.

Mr. Obama dismissed the suggestion that his relationship with Mrs. Merkel was strained. Asked by a German television reporter about it, he playfully admonished the press.

“Stop it, all of you,” Mr. Obama said. “We have more than enough problems out there without manufacturing problems.”

 

Jeff Zeleny reported from Dresden, and Nicholas Kulish from Weimar, Germany. Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.

    At a Holocaust Site, Obama Calls Denial ‘Hateful’, NYT, 6.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/06/world/europe/06prexy.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

News Analysis

Obama Pins Mideast Hope on Limiting Settlements

 

June 6, 2009
The New York Times
By ETHAN BRONNER

 

JERUSALEM — Iran seems to be hurtling toward nuclear weapons capacity, Hezbollah could win Sunday’s election in Lebanon and Hamas is smuggling long-range rockets into Gaza again. So why is President Obama focusing such attention on the building of homes by Israeli Jews in the West Bank?

That, in essence, is the question being angrily posed by the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and underscores one of the biggest shifts in American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in three decades. While every administration has objected to Israeli settlement building in occupied lands, the Obama administration has selected it as the opening issue that could begin to untie the Gordian knot of the conflict.

American officials hope that by getting Israel to freeze settlement building on land where the Palestinians expect to build their future state, they can then press Saudi Arabia and other regional powers to offer Israel concessions like low-level trade or tourism. In addition, stopping the construction would remove a major concern of the Palestinians that their land is slowly disappearing under settler housing. In his Cairo speech on Thursday, the president again called for an end to the settlement building.

“Obama may have found the soft underbelly of Israel, because ending settlements is a consensus issue in the world, among American Jewry and even among a majority of Israelis,” said Yossi Beilin, a former leftist minister and member of Parliament who now runs a private consulting firm. “He needs a strong regional coalition to leave Iraq — and not to leave it to Iran. And it seems like he sees ending settlements as a way to start this process. The only question is whether Netanyahu can do what is needed.”

The administration is starting with settlements for two reasons. It wants to send a message to the Arab world that the previous eight years of siding consistently with Israel are over — hence the Cairo speech and the focus on improving relations with Muslims. And it is one place where it actually has leverage — given the American backing of Israel, it can push Israel to live up to its commitment far more easily than it can persuade Hamas to abandon violence.

A poll published in Friday’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper lends some credence to the view that most Israelis would be willing to go along. Asked whether Mr. Netanyahu should acquiesce to Mr. Obama’s demands or risk American sanctions, a small majority favored acquiescing. When asked whether Israel should freeze settlement construction, another slim majority agreed. But when asked about “natural growth” of families in the settlements, a majority favored making allowances.

The issue of natural growth has surfaced so prominently because while the Israeli government presents it as a simple humane need to make room for expanding families, the data show that settler growth has been enormous in recent years and nearly all of it has been labeled natural growth.

While stopping the bulldozers seems like a relatively easy request of Israel, it is politically dicey for Mr. Netanyahu and technically complicated. His governing coalition includes parties with right-wing constituencies whose central goal is to expand settlements. Moreover, 40 years of settlement building have created interlocking bureaucracies and constituencies that will be hard to stop.

As Yossi Verter, a political analyst, put it in the liberal newspaper Haaretz on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu “will have to decide over the coming weeks whom he would rather pick a fight with: the powerful American administration, whose president sees himself in an almost messianic role, or his own coalition and members of his party.”

Whether Mr. Netanyahu can do it and survive politically is not the only question here. A second is whether this new American approach holds any promise.

“I am not a Greater Israel guy and I have no objection to dismantling settlements as part of a peace deal, but getting so hung up on freezing settlement growth is not wise because it is not the most important issue out there,” argued Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.

The far bigger concern, he said, is that the Palestinians are unable to make similar concessions because of their political divisions and weakness.

Israelis have turned rightward and most analyses suggest that the reason is a growing fear of regional threats, notably Iranian-backed parties like Hezbollah and Hamas, on Israel’s borders.

Sarah Honig, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a conservative paper, put it this way a week ago in a column: “Settlements aren’t the problem and removing them isn’t the solution. Israel foolishly dismantled 21 Gaza Strip settlements in 2005. Did peace blossom all over as a result? Precisely the reverse occurred. The razing of Israeli communities was regarded as terror’s triumph, expediting the Hamas takeover.”

The settlements are a complex issue that resonates in surprising ways here. Zionism began 125 years ago through the Jewish purchase of land in Palestine and the building of settlements on what the Jews saw as their ancient homeland. When Israel won additional territory in the 1967 war, a conflict it felt was imposed on it, many here viewed it as the miraculous continuation of Jewish national rebirth in the biblical heartland. Religious Jews began settling there, but others were attracted by low prices, open space and a pioneering ethos.

Criticism ensued immediately, including American government condemnation. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids a country to settle its civilians in areas conquered militarily. Israel set up military outposts that turned into civilian settlements.

Palestinians were enraged. Some resorted to terrorism, leading some Israelis to argue that settlements were a vital front line to protect the heartland.

After Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed in 1993 to mutual recognition and began negotiating the terms of a Palestinian state, Israel ended construction of new settlements. But the boundaries of existing settlements were large, and over the next decade, the settler population more than doubled and now stands at nearly 300,000.

In 2003, Israel and the Palestinians signed the so-called road map for a two-state solution, calling on Israel to freeze all settlements, and on the Palestinians to dismantle terror networks. Neither has done so.

The Israelis say they had unwritten agreements with the Bush administration to continue building, as long as no new settlements were built. Bush officials say that is only partially true. The Obama administration says such winks and nods are over. It is signaling the Arab world that it is shifting policy. Whether it does so, and how the Netanyahu government responds, will make for high drama in the coming months.

    Obama Pins Mideast Hope on Limiting Settlements, NYT, 6.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/06/world/middleeast/06mideast.html

 

 

 

 

 

Among Israel’s U.S. Backers, Anxiety and Some Support Greet Obama’s Words

 

June 6, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s new formulation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — along with his tough new stance against Israeli settlements in the West Bank — has rekindled fears among a few American Jewish organizations that Mr. Obama may be fundamentally less pro-Israeli than his predecessors.

But several prominent pro-Israeli lawmakers on Capitol Hill indicated that they remained behind Mr. Obama’s Middle East push, at least for now.

“The president is absolutely on the right track,” said Representative Gary L. Ackerman, Democrat of New York. “Certainly he’s right that expansion of settlements is not helpful, and hurts a peace process.”

Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, praised the speech that Mr. Obama delivered on Thursday from Cairo, in which he voiced sympathy for what he called the “daily humiliations” of the Palestinians. Ms. Lowey said, “Recognition of historical realities and the dignity, rights and opportunity all people deserve must be at the center of our pursuit of stability and security.”

Whether Mr. Obama can continue to hold on to this support from pro-Israeli lawmakers remains to be seen. His background — a practicing Christian who is the son of a Muslim father from Kenya — as well as some statements and his friendships with prominent Palestinians had left many American Jewish groups worried that he might be tougher on Israel than past American presidents had been.

Mindful that the Cairo speech could cause a stir among American Jews, senior White House officials held a conference call Wednesday night from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with three to four dozen American Jewish leaders, to alert them to the president’s message and to try to win their support.

But Mr. Obama will clearly have more soothing to do when he comes home. The Zionist Organization of America issued a statement on Friday calling the Cairo speech “strongly biased” against Israel. A statement by the organization’s president, Morton A. Klein, said Mr. Obama’s remarks “may well signal the beginning of a renunciation of America’s strategic alliance with Israel.”

Although Mr. Obama chose to bypass Israel on his trip, he announced that he was dispatching his Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell, to the region next week for talks on Arab-Israeli peace, an indication that he intends to follow up the Cairo speech with quick action.

“The moment is now for us to act on what we all know to be the truth, which is that each side is going to have to make some difficult compromises,” Mr. Obama said Friday in Germany. He added: “The Palestinians have to get serious about creating a security environment that is required for Israel to feel confident. Israelis are going to have to take some difficult steps.”

Some of the concerns that supporters of Israel voiced about Mr. Obama before he took office began to dissipate as he assembled a staff that includes a White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who was a civilian volunteer in the Israeli armed forces, and a secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who established strong pro-Israel credentials during her years as a senator from New York.

But some apprehension clearly remains. In an interview on Friday, Representative Ackerman said he believed that Mr. Obama needed to clarify what he meant by a freeze on Israeli settlements, a call that has left Israeli officials deeply uneasy.

Mrs. Clinton said last week that a freeze meant no “natural growth exceptions,” and some Israeli officials have contended that the Obama administration is, in effect, telling Israeli settlers that they cannot have babies. Most Middle East experts say the term “natural growth” applies to actual construction of additional units within the settlements’ existing boundaries.

“We can’t tell people that they can’t have a child,” Mr. Ackerman said.

But the settlers’ annual population growth, at 5.6 percent, far outstrips the Israeli average of 1.8 percent, and Palestinians have complained that even natural growth cannot account for such a disparity.

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, fell in behind Mr. Obama on the settlement issue, much as he did last month when the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was in Washington and got an earful from lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the United States was serious about a freeze on settlement construction.

Mr. Kerry urged Palestinians to crack down on terrorism, and called for Arab countries to reach out to Israel. He added: “Israel must take difficult steps as well, and as a friend of Israel, the United States must speak with unity on their importance. I agree with President Obama that Israel’s settlement activity undermines efforts to achieve peace, and that these settlements must stop.”

    Among Israel’s U.S. Backers, Anxiety and Some Support Greet Obama’s Words, NYT, 6.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/06/world/middleeast/06diplo.html?ref=middleeast

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

Listening to Obama’s Message in Cairo

 

June 6, 2009
The New York Times

 

To the Editor:

Re “Addressing Muslims, a Blunt Obama Takes On Mideast Issues” (front page, June 5):

The world’s eyes and ears on Cairo underscores how President Obama has given us the gift of a new and unique opportunity — one that only a year ago seemed like a fantasy — to reorient America as a peaceful citizen of the planet we seem to have rejoined at last.

President Obama has “pressed the reset button,” as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia, and our return from the wilderness could help bring the Israelis and the Palestinians closer to peace and reconciliation — and underneath all restore those Western-Islamic relations that have so heavily burdened the second half of the last century and especially the beginning of the new one.

No wonder Al Qaeda fears and hates President Obama. And no wonder, even after the new millennium started with an unexpected nightmare, it seems we can at least dream, after all, that our and the Middle East’s and world’s children might grow up to better lives.

We can never of course get back to the world of Sept. 10, 2001, but with lots of determination — and luck — our president may eventually return us closer to that place than we had ever dared to hope.

James Adler
Cambridge, Mass., June 5, 2009



To the Editor:

As extremists inherently pit Islam against the West and Westerners often espouse progressive ideals to the Muslim world in a nonprogressive manner, I doubted if any public figure could offer concrete ideas to promote peace. President Obama’s Cairo address, however, dispelled those doubts.

Presenting a vast overlap of Islamic and American ideals, the president’s address gave the Muslim world hope, and extremists angst. The president referred to the Koran and history to show that Islam advocates for pluralism, education and sanctity of life. He reminded the Muslim world of America’s support for Islam dating back to John Adams’s presidency, to its defense of the hijab, or head scarf, to the fact that so many Muslims have succeeded in so many ways in America.

By incorporating Islam into the equation rather than rejecting it, President Obama presented the most conciliatory message for global peace in recent memory: swords may bend heads, but only ideas bend minds.

Sardar Anees Ahmad
Waterloo, N.Y., June 5, 2009



To the Editor:

In President Obama’s push for Mideast peace, one key unasked question is: Can the Islamic world accept a non-Muslim state in the middle of an Arab-dominated region? If the answer is no, then all negotiated agreements are nothing more than subterfuge.

Howard Schwartz
Englewood, N.J., June 5, 2009



To the Editor:

For as long as I can remember, my Muslim identity and my American identity have made me a stranger in both worlds.

In the sensitivities of the post- 9/11 era, I had to be cautious when asserting my Muslim identity to my fellow Americans who were not Muslim. When visiting cousins in Pakistan, I had to be cautious asserting my pride in being an American.

Today, I have never been so proud to be a Muslim-American. Thank you, President Obama, for bringing our two worlds together, and for helping me merge the worlds within myself.

Moein Khawaja
Philadelphia, June 5, 2009



To the Editor:

To those of us who desire a just peace in the Middle East, it was disappointing to see President Obama, in the interest of evenhandedness, gloss over some inconvenient truths.

To create an appearance of equivalence between the Holocaust and the condition of the Palestinians, he said of them: “For more than 60 years, they’ve 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.”

The inconvenient truth, which he failed to acknowledge, is that, for the first 19 of those 60 years, the West Bank and Gaza were administered by Jordan and Egypt, respectively, and that it was under the administration of the Arab nations that the Palestinians were confined to refugee camps.

At any time during those first 19 years, the Arab nations could have provided “a life of peace and security” by, for example, establishing a Palestinian state or integrating the people into their own countries. Instead, they kept them confined to the camps as pawns in a propaganda war against Israel.

At the same time, Jewish refugees from Arab countries were forced to flee their homes by the backlash to the establishment of Israel.

In contrast to the actions of the Arab nations, Israel took them in, sometimes requiring daring rescue missions, and integrated them into their modern, Western-oriented society, just as they did, one might add, for the Arabs who chose to remain as citizens of Israel.

Joel S. Engel
Armonk, N.Y., June 5, 2009



To the Editor:

As the author of a history of Saudi Arabia, I am delighted that we have a president who can speak to Muslims with sensitivity and insight, and who says that Muslims and Westerners need not be adversaries.

Rivalry can be friendly. Sura (Chapter) 5 of the Koran says that God sent mankind the Torah, the Gospel and the Koran. “For every one of you, We have appointed a path and a way ... So compete with one another in good works.”

Mark Weston
Armonk, N.Y., June 5, 2009

The writer is the author of “Prophets and Princes: Saudi Arabia From Muhammad to the Present.”




To the Editor:

What a beautiful speech President Obama gave in Cairo! With the pragmatism of Jefferson and some of the fire of Rumi, our new president is laying out leadership and vision we’ve desperately needed.

Despite the nit-picking of cynics, the substance is all there, and President Obama’s faith and citations of people believing in one another, and themselves, is exactly what we need at this time.

G. Colby Allerton
Albany, Calif., June 5, 2009

    Listening to Obama’s Message in Cairo, NYT, 6.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/06/opinion/l06mideast.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

Addressing Muslims, Obama Pushes Mideast Peace

 

June 5, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY and ALAN COWELL

 

CAIRO — In opening a bold overture to the Islamic world on Thursday, President Obama confronted frictions between Muslims and the West, but he reserved some of his bluntest words for Israel, as he expressed sympathy for the Palestinians and what he called the “daily humiliations, large and small, that come with occupation.”

While Mr. Obama emphasized that America’s bond with Israel was “unbreakable,” he spoke in equally powerful terms of the Palestinian people, describing their plight as “intolerable” after 60 years of statelessness, and twice referring to “Palestine” in a way that put Palestinians on parallel footing with Israelis.

Mr. Obama’s speech in Cairo, which he called a “timeless city,” was perhaps the riskiest of his presidency, as he used unusually direct language to call for a fresh look at deep divisions, both those between Israel and its neighbors and between the Islamic world and the West. Among his messages was a call for Americans and Muslims to abandon their mutual suspicions and do more to confront violent extremism.

But it was Mr. Obama’s empathetic tone toward the Palestinians that attracted the most attention in the region and around the world. His words left many Palestinians and their Arab supporters jubilant but infuriated some Israelis and American backers of Israel because they saw the speech as elevating the Palestinians to equal status.

Mr. Obama said the bond between the United States and Israel was “based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”

“On the other hand,” Mr. Obama added, “it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years, they’ve endured the pain of dislocation.” He said Americans “will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”

Mr. Obama seemed to connect with his audience in his 55-minute speech from Cairo University as he quoted repeatedly from the Koran and occasionally sprinkled his remarks with Arabic, even beginning his address with the traditional Arabic greeting “salaam aleikum,” or “peace be upon you.”

In the speech, which was broadcast and translated around the world, Mr. Obama sounded forceful, even scolding at times, as he promoted democracy in Egypt and women’s rights and acknowledged that the United States had fallen short of its ideals, particularly in the Iraq war.

He divided his speech into seven sections, standing at the podium like the university professor he was before beginning his political career. Mr. Obama sharply criticized what he called the “disturbing tendency” among some Muslims, both Sunnis and Shiites, to “measure one’s own faith by the rejection of somebody else’s faith.”

But while he spoke uncompromisingly of the American fight against Al Qaeda, Mr. Obama never mentioned the words “terrorism” or “terrorist.” That was a departure from the language used by the Bush administration, but one that some Middle East experts suggested reflected a belief by the new administration that overuse had made the words inflammatory.

Still, Paul D. Wolfowitz, a former top Bush administration official who was an architect of the war in Iraq and is a strong supporter of Israel, offered general praise for Mr. Obama’s address.

“I could have used less moral equivalence, but he had to get through to his audience, and it’s in America’s interest for him to get through,” Mr. Wolfowitz said.

Mr. Obama’s remarks will be parsed by Israelis and Palestinians, in part because when previous American presidents have used the word “Palestine,” they have usually done so only in reference to a future Palestinian state, as President George W. Bush did in March 2002.

“Now Obama is saying ‘Palestine’ is a present reality,” said Robert Malley, director of the Middle East program at the International Crisis Group, and a Middle East negotiator in the Clinton administration.

Mr. Obama’s stark statement that “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” is also likely to be seen as a sharp challenge to Israeli assumptions that existing West Bank settlements will always be allowed to remain.

It was noteworthy that the only Palestinian political group that Mr. Obama specifically mentioned was Hamas, the militant Islamic organization that won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. Hamas governs Gaza, but is loathed by Israel. Mr. Obama called on Hamas to forswear violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist, but Middle East experts said that his mention was an acknowledgment that Hamas might have become a more important actor than the Fatah Party, controlled by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

Mr. Obama said, “Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities.”

The president offered few details on how to solve problems around the globe. But he offered up his own biography as a credible connection to his various audiences. His message touched on a lengthy list of challenges, but his appearance here could simply be boiled down to this: Barack Hussein Obama was standing on the podium in this Muslim capital as the American president.

“I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear,” Mr. Obama said. “But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

Some Muslims were delighted.

“I feel that he spoke to my emotions, and showed a sense of recognition of the dignity of Palestinians,” said Ghaith al-Omari, advocacy director of the American Task Force on Palestine.

Although Mr. Obama strongly condemned those who would deny the Holocaust, many American supporters of Israel said they resented what they viewed as comparing it to the plight of the Palestinians.

“I understand Palestinian suffering, it is terrible,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “But it is not on the other hand to the Holocaust.”

 

Jeff Zeleny reported from Cairo, and Helene Cooper from Washington.

    Addressing Muslims, Obama Pushes Mideast Peace, NYT, 5.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/world/middleeast/05prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Editorial

The Cairo Speech

 

June 5, 2009
The New York Times

 

When President Bush spoke in the months and years after Sept. 11, 2001, we often — chillingly — felt as if we didn’t recognize the United States. His vision was of a country racked with fear and bent on vengeance, one that imposed invidious choices on the world and on itself. When we listened to President Obama speak in Cairo on Thursday, we recognized the United States.

Mr. Obama spoke, unwaveringly, of the need to defend the country’s security and values. He left no doubt that he would do what must be done to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban, while making it clear that Americans have no desire to permanently occupy Afghanistan or Iraq.

He spoke, unequivocally, of the United States’ “unbreakable” commitment to Israel and of why Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. He was also clear that all of those listening — in the Muslim world and in Israel — must do more to defeat extremism and to respect the rights of their neighbors and their people.

Words are important. Mr. Obama was right when he urged leaders who privately speak of moderation and compromise to dare to say those words in public. But words are not enough. Mr. Obama, who, after all, has been in office for less than six months, has a lot to do to fulfill this vision. So do others.

Like many people, we were listening closely to how the president would address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He did not shy away from pressing Israel’s new government, insisting that the construction of settlements must stop, the existence of a Palestinian state cannot be denied, and “the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.”

In the same stern tone, he pressed the Palestinians to reject violence and said that Arab states must stop using the conflict “to distract” their people from other problems. They must recognize Israel and do more to help Palestinians build strong state institutions.

We couldn’t have agreed more when he said that the elements of a peace formula are known. We are now waiting to hear his strategy to move the process forward.

On Iran, Mr. Obama warned that its pursuit of nuclear weapons could set off a dangerous arms race in the Middle East. He also renewed his offer of serious negotiations. We are waiting to see what Mr. Obama will propose and how he plans to persuade Russia, China and the Europeans to support a credible mix of punishments and enticements to try to change Tehran’s behavior.

Mr. Obama challenged the conspiracy-minded who questioned, and those who justified, the Sept. 11 attacks. He said the war in Afghanistan was one of necessity and insisted that despite the high cost, in lives and treasure, America’s commitment will not weaken.

At the same time, Mr. Obama said the war in Iraq was a war of “choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.” Mr. Obama, who said Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein, missed a chance to urge Iraq’s neighbors to do all they can to help hold the country together as American troops withdraw.

The audience was undoubtedly waiting to hear how Mr. Obama handled the issue of democracy — and its depressing scarcity in the Islamic world. He avoided President Bush’s hectoring tone and did not confront his host, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. But we suspect everyone in the hall knew whom he was talking about (they applauded at key moments) when he said that governments must maintain power “through consent, not coercion” and that “elections alone do not make true democracy.” We hope he made those points directly when he met Mr. Mubarak and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Before Thursday’s speech, and after, Mr. Obama’s critics complained that he has spent too much time apologizing and accused him of weakening the country. That is a gross misreading of what he has been saying — and of what needs to be said. After eight years of arrogance and bullying that has turned even close friends against the United States, it takes a strong president to acknowledge the mistakes of the past. And it takes a strong president to press himself and the world to do better.

    The Cairo Speech, NYT, 5.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/opinion/05fri1.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

Varying Responses to Speech in Mideast Highlight Divisions

 

June 5, 2009
The New York Times
By ISABEL KERSHNER, ROBERT W. WORTH and MICHAEL SLACKMAN

 

JERUSALEM — President Obama’s carefully balanced message was greeted warmly by his immediate audience in Cairo on Thursday and in some other parts of the Mideast, but there was also dismissiveness and frustration. And among Israelis and Palestinians, reactions to a message designed to open each side up to the other and foster new understandings seemed rather to reflect the fractures.

Israelis and Palestinians picked at the content of the sweeping speech almost like a biblical text, finding reassuring passages and more ominous ones, depending on which side of the political spectrum they came from.

Israelis on the far right, for example, blasted Mr. Obama for what they said was his casting of an equivalency between the Holocaust and the suffering of Palestinians in two concurrent paragraphs of his 55-minute long address.

“How dare Obama compare Arab refugee suffering to the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust?” asked Aryeh Eldad, a parliamentarian from the rightist National Union Party, adding that Mr. Obama might understand the difference better when he visits the Buchenwald concentration camp in the coming days.

It was a mirror image in Gaza, where Ahmed Youssef, the deputy foreign minister of the Hamas government, criticized the speech for not going far enough on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “He points to the right of Israel to exist, but what about the refugees and their right of return?” Mr. Youssef said of Mr. Obama’s remarks, leaving out that Mr. Obama also said Palestine’s right to exist can’t be denied.

“As a legal specialist,” Mr. Youssef added, Mr. Obama “should know people are under occupation, and they can not recognize the state while they are under occupation, only afterwards. Why put pressure on Arabs and Muslims to recognize Israel while it is not recognizing our existence?”

Each side also acknowledged that there were positive statements in the speech to buttress their own causes.

Israelis noted that that Mr. Obama referred to America’s bond with Israel as “unbreakable” and defined Israel as a “Jewish homeland,” an important point of contention with the Palestinians; they also appreciated his unequivocal condemnation of Palestinian resistance through violence, including rocket attacks, and his condemnation of Holocaust denial.

Palestinians noted that Mr. Obama was the first American president to refer to “Palestine,” and praised his willingness to acknowledge the depth of Palestinian suffering so deeply.

Many lines in Mr. Obama’s speech drew applause from the audience in the elegant Cairo University hall where it was held, but perhaps none so expressively as those lifted from the Koran, which emphasized Islam as a religion of justice and equality. The president’s respectful treatment of the religion, and his elegiac recounting of the achievements of Muslims through history, resonated strongly with many throughout the region, who seemed delighted by it.

Even those who took strong issue with some of the speech’s political points acknowledged that its tone, rhetoric, and overall sense of empathy, were strikingly new.

“I think his performance was marvelous,” said Khalid al-Dakhil, a professor at King Saudi University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “He seems so much more sympathetic, so much more understanding of the feelings, attitudes and perceptions of Arabs and Muslims. I think it was a speech with a vision, it was designed to set the stage for a new beginning.”

Even the way Mr. Obama began his speech, his references to Koranic verses and his use of the phrase “peace be upon him” after mentioning the Prophet Muhammad, and his opening greeting — “Peace be upon you” in Arabic — struck a chord with many people, particularly in Saudi Arabia, the deeply conservative desert kingdom where Islam was born.

“Starting the speech with the words ‘salaam aleykum’ was a really good approach,” said Ghina Sibai, a 32 year-old art director from Beirut, Lebanon, in comments echoed by others across the Arab world. “Its kind of like a peace treaty. He’s trying to address the Muslim world through its own culture.

“He was trying to erase stereotypes about Islam,” said Marwan Kabalan, a professor of political science at Damascus University in Damascus, Syria. “It was the most tolerant speech I have ever heard by an American president concerning Islam and Muslims.”

Despite their admiration for Mr. Obama’s message and tone, however, some viewers in Syria, a one nation with particularly strained ties to the United States, viewed the address through the region’s omnipresent strategic lens, saying they felt its softened tone was dictated partly by American weakness.

“The United States is in a weaker position now,” said Omar Amiralai, a well-known 65-year-old Syrian film maker. “They are stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan and don’t know how to get out. Bush, after the Iraq war, had some ability to pressure Sharon on Israeli settlements, but I don’t see that the United States has the ability to impose its law or desires on Israel now.”

Ayman Abdullah, a 47-year-old electrical engineer, was watching the speech live on large television screens along with dozens of others at the Rawda Cafe in Damascus. “The United States has lost power and popularity across the world, and this is really just a new kind of attempt to regain it, which probably wont work,” he said.

There seemed, to many Arab viewers, a kind of blindness in Mr. Obama’s speech when it came to wars being conducted by the United States abroad, and a failure to acknowledge that the United States, too, was responsible for the deaths of innocents.

“What is astonishing is that he condemned violence, but he didn’t say a word about what the United States did in Iraq,” said Khalid Saghieh, the executive editor of al Akhbar, a Lebanese daily newspaper that leans towards Hezbollah. “If you want to call for a new beginning, you should at least apologize for tens of thousands of victims in Iraq.”

Other viewers passed over Mr. Obama’s comments about Iraq and Afghanistan as political boilerplate, something the United States was duty bound to defend even if the facts remained inconclusive. Instead, they felt he placed all the blame for the violence on the Islamic militants, rather than acknowledging that they too were reacting to historic wrongs.

“All this talk of extremism it is a transitory phenomenon,” said Mr. Amiralai, the Syrian film maker. “It is a kind of foam that simply disguises the deeper sources of injustice in the Islamic world.”

The subject that aroused the greatest interest by far was Israel and Palestine. Some gave Mr. Obama credit for being clearer and firmer about the need for Israel stop building settlements and to agree to a two-state solution. But most of the listeners also expressed urgency that Mr. Obama’s soaring language to be translated into new policies that would push Israel harder than the United States has in the past.

Many went much farther, assailing Mr. Obama for essentially repeating old American policies and for equating the suffering of Israelis seen here as the oppressors with that of Palestinians. The passage in which Mr. Obama talked about the Holocaust evoked little reaction, as many Arabs view that history — whether or not they doubt its veracity — as one that has often been invoked to justify Israeli oppression.

“He wasn’t tough enough on Israel,” said Saoud Kabli, a 25-year-old columnist for the Saudi newspaper Watan. “He mentioned Muslim extremists, but he didn’t mention what the Israelis do to the Palestinians. What I was looking for on an intellectual level is a tough hand on the other side. There are Palestinians who suffer every day from what the Israelis are doing.”

Mr. Saghieh, the Beirut newspaper editor, was harsher, saying Mr. Obama’s even-handed treatment of Israeli and Palestinian suffering was bound to anger people in this part of the world. He added that most Arabs would not agree with Mr. Obama’s categorical comments about the futility of violence, noting that American revolutionaries had used violence in their struggle for independence against Britain.

“There was a vague hint in the speech that Jerusalem can be place for all sons of Abraham,” Mr. Saghieh said. “But did not attack the two main issues, the status of Jerusalem and the issue of refugees.”

Some others went still farther.

“I consider Mr. Obama’s speech a morphine injection, to numb the minds of Muslim and Arab people so that they don’t mind so much the injustices carried out by the United States in the region, as long as Mr. Obama respects Islamic culture and heritage,” said Mr. Abdullah, the Syrian electrical engineer.

In Cairo, where the speech was carried on national television and was widely watched, the speech seemed widely appreciated as a step in the right direction, even if people still found in it many failures, oversights, missteps and flaws.

“It was honest, is the first word that comes to mine,” said Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an independent human rights organization.

Mr. Bahgat, who attended the speech, said that one of the most important elements of the speech was what was left out: “I think it was remarkable the speech left out the term terrorism completely,” he said. “It may have been a paradigm shift for the US away from using this politically charged word.”

Others analysts said that Mr. Obama clearly went as far as he could, given that his allies are the leaders of the region and that Israel is a close strategic partner. He spoke about freedom, democracy, human rights and even criticized Israel on its expansion of settlement. For that, they said, he left the hall appreciated and a rock star; but they also cautioned that the glow will soon fade if it is not followed up, quickly, with some action.

“What is the next step we can witness which can make American policies different from what they used to be?” said Mansoor al-Jamri, the editor of a Bahrain newspaper, Al Wasat, and a member of one of the kingdom’s most prominent Shiite families. “There has got to be actual steps to confirm all these declarations of intent. What is the next step, thank you very much.”

 

Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem; Robert W. Worth from Beirut, Lebanon; and Michael Slackman from Cairo. Reporting was contributed by Taghreed El-Khodary from Gaza; Hwaida Saad from Beirut; Muhammad al-Milfy from Riyadh; Omar al-Mani from Damascus, Syria; and Sharon Otterman from New York.

    Varying Responses to Speech in Mideast Highlight Divisions, NYT, 5.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/world/middleeast/05reax.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Calls for Alliances With Muslims

 

June 5, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY and ALAN COWELL

 

CAIRO — President Obama pledged on Thursday to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” imploring America and the Islamic world to drop their suspicions of one another and forge new alliances to confront violent extremism and heal religious divides.

“We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek,” he said. “A world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected.”

He dwelled on Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan but reserved some of his sharpest words for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He offered no major initiatives on the Middle East peace process although he put Israelis and Palestinians on notice that he intends to deal directly with what he sees as intransigence on key issues, evoking the concerns of both parties but asking both to shift ground significantly.

The speech in Cairo, which he called a “timeless city,” redeemed a promise he made nearly two years ago while running for president. It was, perhaps, the riskiest speech of his young presidency, and Mr. Obama readily conceded that not every goal would be easily or quickly achieved.

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition,” he said. “Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

His message was sweeping and forceful — at times scolding and combative — promoting democracy in Egypt, warning Israelis against building new settlements, and acknowledging that the United States had fallen short of its ideals, particularly in the Iraq war. It also evoked a new and nuanced tone, and some of Mr. Obama’s language drew appreciative applause from his audience of 3,000 invited guests in the Major Reception Hall at Cairo University.

Several times, for instance, he spoke of “Palestine,” rather than the more ambiguous term often used by American leaders, “future Palestinian state.” And, in reference to the Palestinians, he pointedly mentioned “the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation.”

He described the bond between the United States and Israel as “unbreakable,” and urged Hamas, the Islamic militant group in control of the Gaza Strip, to stop violence. But in his next breath, Mr. Obama said Israel must curtail its expansion of West bank settlements and recognize Palestinian aspirations for statehood. He also acknowledged that Hamas, which the United States labels a terrorist organization, “does have some support among some Palestinians.”

“But they also have responsibilities,” Mr. Obama said, listing them as “to end violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

“Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s,” Mr. Obama said. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

And, while Israel’s hawkish government has not accepted a so-called two-state solution, Mr. Obama said: “The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”

“This is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest and the world’s interest,” he said. In the Middle East, “too many tears have been shed; too much blood has been shed.”

The address drew initial support from Palestinians. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called it “a good start and an important step towards a new American policy.”

“It was honest, is the first word that comes to mind,” said Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an independent human rights organization.

Mr. Bahgat, who attended the speech at Cairo University, said that one of the most important elements of the speech was what was left out. “I think it was remarkable the speech left out the term terrorism completely,” he said. “It may have been a paradigm shift for the United States, away from using this politically charged word.”

But others in the region faulted it. The President, some noted, did not offer any new initiatives, did not lay out a time line for progress towards a Middle East settlement and asked his audience to accept an view which gave equal weight to Israeli and Palestinian concerns.

That part did not go down well, people in the region said.

“I feel it is important historically, but it will bring nothing new,” said Hasim Fouad, 24, a reporter with the independent Egyptian newspaper Al Dustour.

Mr. Obama strode onto the stage to loud applause and a standing ovation in the conference hall. He conceded that his speech came at “a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world.”

But he sought to explain that he represented the new face of American leadership. He did not mention the name of George W. Bush, who preceded him in office, and whose policies contributed to the mistrust.

“America is not and never will be at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security,” Mr. Obama said. “Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children.” Mr. Obama said: “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

Mr. Obama offered few details for how to solve myriad problems and conflicts around the globe, but he offered up his own biography as a credible connection to his audience. While the message touched upon a litany of challenges, it boiled down to simply this: Barack Hussein Obama was standing at the podium as the American president.

“I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum,” Mr. Obama said, delivering a common greeting signifying peaceful intent.

Mr. Obama said the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 caused “enormous trauma to our country.” He offered no direct criticism of the previous administration, but reminded his audience that he has “unequivocally prohibited the use of torture” and has ordered the prison to be closed at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals,” Mr. Obama said. “We are taking concrete actions to change course.”

The president divided his speech into seven sections, often sounding like the university professor he was before he sought political office. He touched on “sources of tension” from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights and economic development and opportunity.

He said the Iraq war had been a “war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.”

“Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.”

By contrast, he described America’s military presence in Afghanistan as a necessity after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan,” he said. “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 now Pakistan, determined to kill as many Americans as possible. But that is not yet the case.”

Turning to Iran’s contentious nuclear program, he said any nation “should have the right to access to peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities” under international regulations to counter the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Iran maintains its nuclear enrichment program is for peaceful civilian purposes but many in the West suspect it is designed to build a nuclear bomb. “This is not simply about America’s interests,” Mr. Obama said, “It is also about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”

As his visit to the region began Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Obama was greeted with reminders of the vast gulfs his address must bridge, as voices as disparate as Al Qaeda’s and the Israeli government’s competed to shape how Mr. Obama’s message would be heard.

In a new audiotape, Osama bin Laden condemned Mr. Obama for planting what he called new seeds of “hatred and vengeance” among Muslims, while in Jerusalem, senior Israeli officials complained that Mr. Obama was rewriting old understandings by taking a harder line against new Israeli settlements.

 

Jeff Zeleny reported from Cairo, and Alan Cowell from London. Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington, and Michael Slackman from Cairo.

    Obama Calls for Alliances With Muslims, NYT, 5.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/world/middleeast/05prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo

 

June 4, 2009
The New York Times

 

The following is a text of President Obama's prepared remarks to the Muslim world, delivered on June 4, 2009, as released by the White House.

 

I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world – tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.

I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our Universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: "Out of many, one."

Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

This is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes subjugating one another to serve their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners of it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; progress must be shared.

That does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: we must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet Al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. 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.

That's why we're partnering with a coalition of forty-six countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths – more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism – it is an important part of promoting peace.

We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced. And that is why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend upon.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future – and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. That is why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically-elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012. We will help Iraq train its Security Forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.

So America will defend itself respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. 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 sixty 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. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires. The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them – and all of us – to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

Finally, the Arab States must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state; to recognize Israel's legitimacy; and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. 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.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind, heart, and soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it is being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there is a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of another's. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld – whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. And fault lines must be closed among Muslims as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That is why I am committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

Indeed, faith should bring us together. That is why we are forging service projects in America that bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That is why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's Interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into Interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action – whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own – this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf States have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century, and in too many Muslim communities there remains underinvestment in these areas. I am emphasizing such investments within my country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas in this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America, while encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in on-line learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world we seek – a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many – Muslim and non-Muslim – who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort – that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country – you, more than anyone, have the ability to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

    Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo, NYT, 4.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04obama.text.html?ref=middleeast

    Related > Video > Complete Video of Obama’s Cairo Speech > http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/full-video-of-obamas-cairo-speech/?ref=middleeast

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

Obama’s Piece of the Mideast Puzzle

 

June 4, 2009
The New York Times

 

To the Editor:

Re “Arab Nations Say Israel Must Make the Next Gesture” (news article, June 3):

The immediate imperative is an American gesture signaling a genuine determination to resolve the Arab- Israeli conflict. This could be accomplished by including the following in President Obama’s speech in Cairo on Thursday:

“The United States is fundamentally adopting the substance of the 2002 Arab peace initiative as re-endorsed in 2007 and committing that we will devote all appropriate resources and make every possible effort to expeditiously bring about the realization of two viable, independent, mutually non-hostile states, Palestine and Israel, sharing Jerusalem as their capital, based on the pre-1967 division.”

The absence of such a gesture will reveal a fundamental vacuity in the president’s message.

Ed Martin
New York, June 3, 2009



To the Editor:

Let’s remember that Israel is the only country that gave land to the Palestinians for their autonomous rule. Jordan and Egypt did not do so during the 19 years that they controlled the West Bank and Gaza, but Israel did so by withdrawing from Gaza four years ago. The Palestinian response was not peaceful coexistence, but missiles and terror.

Settlements are not the problem here. Israel has destroyed settlements and displaced its citizens from their homes in Gaza. But the Palestinians didn’t build peaceful towns in the settlements; they used them as missile launching pads.

The world needs to avoid distractions, like settlements and border details, and focus on Arab willingness to live in peace. Peace means no missiles, no terror, no kidnappings.

Until the Arabs are willing to accept peace, Israeli overtures will go the same way as the Gaza withdrawal.

Bruce Dov Krulwich
Beit Shemesh, Israel, June 3, 2009



To the Editor:

Re “Obama on Obama,” by Thomas L. Friedman (column, June 3):

If President Obama believes that “nowhere is truth-telling more important than the Middle East,” he should be telling the truth to the Palestinians on what is the most fundamental issue underlying the conflict: Israel is a Jewish state and Palestinian refugees will “return” to the nascent Palestinian state, not to Israel.

It is not sufficient to tell the Palestinians that they must stop incessant incitement against Israel and Jews. The truth goes much deeper than that. They must be told that the war of 1948 is truly over and that their future lies in building their own state. But this truth always seems too delicate to broach.

This is not an issue that can be shuffled off to final-status negotiations. If a meaningful peace process is to begin, Israelis must see that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel’s core issue, just as Israel is expected to acknowledge the Palestinians’ core issue.

Perhaps most important, the Palestinian leadership must embrace the truth in order to prepare its people for peace.

Gregg M. Mashberg
New Rochelle, N.Y., June 3, 2009



To the Editor:

Re “Israel and U.S. Can’t Close Split on Settlements” (front page, June 2):

This split stems from a significant disconnect that should not be chalked up to mere semantics. Rather, the descriptive language used in defining this split reveals its depth.

The Obama administration views the Israeli presence in the West Bank as unlawful because the settlements sit on occupied territory; the Netanyahu administration views the Israeli presence in the West Bank as lawful because the settlements sit on disputed territory.

Referring to all Jewish communities in the West Bank as “settlements” suggests that each is a far-reaching outpost isolated from Jewish population centers when many are just “suburbs” of Jerusalem. Only final borders arrived at through direct and unconditional negotiations among the principals will end this Israeli-United States split.

David S. Kasdan
Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., June 2, 2009



To the Editor:

From reading your article about the settlement split, I understand that the Israeli government and the settlers do not want peace.

Israel stands against the world community for its illegal actions. These actions produce terrorism and strengthen radical Islam. America’s support for Israel is a threat to United States security interests.

I support President Obama’s demand that Israel halt all settlement activities in the occupied territories. Israel’s expansion in the occupied territories is an existential threat to Israel.

Nabil Wahbeh
Berkeley, Calif., June 2, 2009



To the Editor:

The Israeli settlements are a key impediment to progress in the Middle East. All those settlements, patrolled connecting roads and checkpoints disrupt life in a way no society would tolerate.

The settlements don’t provide security. Who would put families with children in hostile territory to protect the homeland? The fact is, the settlements look to many like a land grab and inflame passions across the region.

Israel should dismantle settlements not contiguous with its border and negotiate land swaps to redraw borders around the most populated areas. If the Palestinians are not willing to participate, Israel should draw upon an international forum to determine a just compromise and then act unilaterally.

Israel is the developed nation, and it needs to do the right thing and stop the tit-for-tat bickering that is so often driven by extremists.

If after that the Palestinians continue with aggression, I, for one, would support a security belt around the border on Palestinian territory, and would happily help finance it through my tax dollars.

Mark Bullinger
Westerly, R.I., June 2, 2009

    Obama’s Piece of the Mideast Puzzle, NYT, 4.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/opinion/l04mideast.html?hpw

 

 

 

 

 

Egyptians Crave Deeds More Than Words

 

June 4, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

 

CAIRO — This city has been painted and paved, manicured and swept clean. Every coffee house and every corner has been buzzing with talk of President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world on Thursday. But all the polish and all the excitement will fade shortly after Air Force One lifts off, most people here say, if nothing changes in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Consensus is rare in the culturally diverse and politically divided Islamic world, but on this point there is unanimity, according to diplomats, political analysts, government officials and average citizens from around the region.

“All American presidents say they will resolve the problem,” said Ahmed Fayek, 22, a student at Cairo University, as he sat outside the freshly painted, swept and landscaped campus where more than 75 years ago the father of Islamic radicalism, Sayyid Qutb, earned a degree in education. “We hope he really does.”

“No, he has to,” said Lamees Muhammad, 18, another student at the school. “The Palestinian problem is the most important. We need real deeds.”

The president and his aides have tried to tamp down expectations, framing the speech as one step in a continuing diplomatic push. And the Arab world has jaundiced memories of lofty promises that have gone unfulfilled.

“He can say very beautiful words, he can make a speech in which he tells the Muslim world that there has been a misunderstanding, that we look forward to a new era, that we respect you and we love you, but all of this would be considered mere rhetoric,” said Abdel Raouf al-Reedy, chairman of the Egyptian Council on Foreign Relations and a former ambassador to the United States. “If he is serious, the test is what he is going to say on the Palestinian problem.”

While his audience is deeply skeptical, it is also excited.

After so many years of feeling bullied and vilified by the Bush White House, many Arabs are greeting President Obama’s visit as a historic moment, and an opportunity.

“I am looking at the speech like Nixon going to China or Sadat going to Jerusalem,” said Abdel Moneim Said, director of Egypt’s premier research center, the state financed Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “We forget how just a year ago neo-cons were facing the problems in the world in terms of the clash of civilizations.”

Mr. Obama’s visit is also something of a spiritual tonic here. It has inspired a remarkable citywide cleanup while setting off a resurgence in pride in Egypt’s historic — if faded — role as the most important Arab center.

“People actually want to like him,” said Nabil Fahmy, a former ambassador to the United States and now dean of the school of public affairs at the American University in Cairo. “He represents change. He represents for them the best in America and he represents someone who seems committed to diplomacy.”

For Mr. Obama to win favor, however, he needs to address challenges facing the Arab world, from poverty and inadequate education systems to limits on democracy and human rights. He also appears mindful of the need to address issues of democracy and human rights while not seeming to criticize or lecture the authoritarian leaders of the region, whose help he needs.

“He has to address those issues carefully so that it is not seen as another person coming to give us lessons,” said Ali el-Garouche, head of Arab administration at the Arab League. “He has to present them in the framework of ‘In order to improve the general situation, you must also get on top of this and that.’ ”

    Egyptians Crave Deeds More Than Words, NYT, 4.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/world/middleeast/04egypt.html?ref=middleeast

 

 

 

 

 

Rival Messages as Obama Lands in the Mideast

 

June 4, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY and HELENE COOPER

 

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Aiming to repair the American relationship with the Muslim world, President Obama was greeted on Wednesday with reminders of the vast gulfs his Cairo speech must bridge, as voices as disparate as Al Qaeda’s and the Israeli government’s competed to shape how Mr. Obama’s message would be heard.

In a new audiotape, Osama bin Laden condemned Mr. Obama for planting what he called new seeds of “hatred and vengeance” among Muslims, while in Jerusalem, senior Israeli officials complained that Mr. Obama was rewriting old understandings by taking a harder line against new Israeli settlements. [Pages A6 and A14.]

The speech that Mr. Obama is to deliver Thursday in Cairo is intended to make good on a two-year-old promise to use a major Muslim capital as the scene for a major address. Mr. Obama has pledged a new face and tone to relations between the United States and the Muslim world. But whether his expected call for America and Islam to come together can trump Mr. bin Laden’s call to arms is a question that could define Mr. Obama’s presidency in the years to come.

Aware of the high expectations for the speech, Mr. Obama and his advisers have spent months soliciting opinion and advice from a wide variety of experts, from men of the cloth to Arab businessmen to Persian scholars. On his first stop in the Middle East, Mr. Obama spent Wednesday afternoon with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s two holiest sites, and declared on arrival, “I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began.”

In a bid to make sure that Mr. Obama’s message will be heard, particularly among young people, the White House has mounted an unusually aggressive campaign, including a Web site created in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English where people outside the United States can sign up to receive the speech via text message. The State Department is to translate the speech into at least 13 languages.

Mr. Obama’s advisers nevertheless sought to lower expectations. “There’s been an undeniable breach between the American and Islamic world,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president.

“That breach has been years in the making. It is not going to be reversed with one speech. It’s not going to be reversed, perhaps, in one administration.”

The speech will cover a wide swath of territory, advisers said, beginning by challenging the misperceptions that Americans may hold about Muslims and that Muslims may hold about Americans. Mr. Obama will touch upon violent extremism, the threat of a nuclear Iran and the need for the expansion of human rights and democracy.

But even on Wednesday night, as Mr. Obama headed to his quarters at Al Janadriyah Farm, where he is a guest of the king, he told his advisers that he had more thinking to do on the speech and that he would deliver a final version by dawn.

As the son and grandson of Muslims, Mr. Obama has had years to reflect on America’s troubled ties with the Islamic world. But the path to the Cairo address, as described by some advisers, also offers a case study in the president’s approach to a delicate issue, one in which he reached out to dozens of people on how to shape his message.

Before his trip, he and his aides talked to American chief executives of major companies who are Muslims. He read unsolicited essays that were sent to the White House. And he sought out not only Muslims, but also Jews and people of other faiths and experts across academia.

In recent weeks, as advisers presented him with drafts of the speech, Mr. Obama would end sessions with a question. “Are you making sure that we are hearing a Muslim voice?” he would say, according to participants.

Among the Muslim business leaders consulted during the preparations were: S. A. Ibrahim of the Radian Group; Tariq Malhance, the president of UIB Capital; Hultam Olayan of the Olayan America Corporation; and Noosheen Hashemi, a former vice president at Oracle.

On the Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day weekend, White House officials hosted a group of Muslim and other foreign policy scholars to discuss what points Mr. Obama should touch on. The meeting was organized by Michael McFaul, the White House senior adviser for Russia, who arranged it under his purview as a senior democracy adviser. Other White House officials in the 90-minute meeting included the National Security Council officials Mara Rudman, Dan Shapiro, Denis McDonough and Ben Rhodes.

On the other side of the table were Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian-American expert from the Carnegie Endowment, Ghaith Al-Omari, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, Vali Nasr, another Iran expert who is soon to join the Obama administration, and Shibley Telhami, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, who described for the assembled officials the results of polling in the Middle East about attitudes toward the United States, according to people in the meeting.

Even as Mr. Obama flew toward Saudi Arabia early Wednesday, he sat on Air Force One, long after most of his advisers had fallen asleep, working with pen in hand through page after page of the speech.

On the first of a five-day trip through four countries, Mr. Obama was treading carefully, with every move being carefully watched in the Middle East. He exchanged a light embrace and a double-kiss with King Abdullah, but the president did not bow as he did at their first meeting in London this year in a gesture that drew criticism.

“I also want to express my best wishes to the friendly American people who are represented by a distinguished man who deserves to be in this position,” King Abdullah said, presenting the president with a large gold medallion known as the King Abdul Aziz Collar.

“Shoukran,” Mr. Obama replied, which in Arabic means “thank you.”

 

Jeff Zeleny reported from Riyadh, and Helene Cooper from Washington.

    Rival Messages as Obama Lands in the Mideast, NYT, 4.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/world/middleeast/04prexy.html?ref=middleeast

 

 

 

 

 

Israelis Say Bush Agreed to West Bank Growth

 

June 4, 2009
The New York Times
By ETHAN BRONNER

 

JERUSALEM — Senior Israeli officials accused President Obama on Wednesday of failing to acknowledge what they called clear understandings with the Bush administration that allowed Israel to build West Bank settlement housing within certain guidelines while still publicly claiming to honor a settlement “freeze.”

The complaint was the latest in a growing rift between the Obama administration and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how to move forward to achieve peace in the Middle East. Mr. Obama was in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and is scheduled to address the Muslim world from Cairo on Thursday.

The Israeli officials said that repeated discussions with Bush officials starting in late 2002 resulted in agreement that housing could be built within the boundaries of certain settlement blocks as long as no new land was expropriated, no special economic incentives were offered to move to settlements and no new settlements were built.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity so that they could discuss an issue of such controversy between the two governments.

When Israel signed on to the so-called road map for a two-state solution in 2003, with a provision that says its government “freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements),” the officials said, it did so after a detailed discussion with Bush administration officials that laid out those explicit exceptions.

“Not everything is written down,” one of the officials said.

He and others said that Israel agreed to the road map and to move ahead with the removal of settlements and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 on the understanding that settlement growth could continue.

But a former senior official in the Bush administration disagreed, calling the Israeli characterization “an overstatement.”

“There was never an agreement to accept natural growth,” the official said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. “There was an effort to explore what natural growth would mean, but we weren’t able to reach agreement on that.”

The former official said that Bush administration officials had been working with their Israeli counterparts to clarify several issues, including natural growth, government subsidies to settlers, and the cessation of appropriation of Palestinian land.

The United States and Israel never reached an agreement, though, either public or private, the official said.

A second senior Bush administration official, also speaking anonymously, said Wednesday: “We talked about a settlement freeze with four elements. One was no new settlements, a second was no new confiscation of Palestinian land, one was no new subsidies and finally, no construction outside the settlements.”

He described that fourth condition, which applied to natural growth, as similar to taking a string and tying it around a settlement, and prohibiting any construction outside that string.

But, he added, “We had a tentative agreement, but that was contingent on drawing up lines, and this is a process that never got done, therefore the settlement freeze was never formalized and never done.”

A third former Bush administration official, Elliott Abrams, who was on the National Security Council staff, wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post in April that seemed to endorse the Israeli argument.

The Israeli officials acknowledged that the new American administration had different ideas about the meaning of the term “settlement freeze.” Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have said in the past week that the term means an end to all building, including natural growth.

But the Israeli officials complained that Mr. Obama had not accepted that the previous understandings existed. Instead, they lamented, Israel now stood accused of having cheated and dissembled in its settlement activity whereas, in fact, it had largely lived within the guidelines to which both governments had agreed.

On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel “cannot freeze life in the settlements,” calling the American demand “unreasonable.”

Dov Weissglas, who was a senior aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, wrote an opinion article that appeared Tuesday in Yediot Aharonot, a mass-selling newspaper, laying out the agreements that he said had been reached with officials in the Bush administration.

He said that in May 2003 he and Mr. Sharon met with Mr. Abrams and Stephen J. Hadley of the National Security Council and came up with the definition of settlement freeze: “no new communities were to be built; no Palestinian lands were to be appropriated for settlement purposes; building will not take place beyond the existing community outline; and no ‘settlement encouraging’ budgets were to be allocated.”

He said that Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser at the time, signed off on that definition later that month and that the two governments also agreed to set up a joint committee to define more fully the meaning of “existing community outline” for established settlements.

In April 2004, President Bush presented Mr. Sharon with a letter stating, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

That letter, Mr. Weissglas said, was a result of his earlier negotiations with Bush administration officials acknowledging that certain settlement blocks would remain Israeli and open to continued growth.

The Israeli officials said that no Bush administration official had ever publicly insisted that Israel was obliged to stop all building in the areas it captured in 1967. They said it was important to know that major oral understandings reached between an Israeli prime minister and an American president would not simply be tossed aside when a new administration came into the White House.

Of course, Mr. Netanyahu has yet to endorse the two-state solution or even the road map agreed to by previous Israeli governments, which were not oral commitments, but actual signed and public agreements.

In his opinion article in The Washington Post, Mr. Abrams, the former Bush official who was part of negotiations with Israel, wrote: “For the past five years, Israel’s government has largely adhered to guidelines that were discussed with the United States but never formally adopted: that there would be no new settlements, no financial incentives for Israelis to move to settlements and no new construction except in already built-up areas. The clear purpose of the guidelines? To allow for settlement growth in ways that minimized the impact on Palestinians.”

Mr. Abrams acknowledged that even within those guidelines, Israel had not fully complied. He wrote: “There has been physical expansion in some places, and the Palestinian Authority is right to object to it. Israeli settlement expansion beyond the security fence, in areas Israel will ultimately evacuate, is a mistake.”

 

Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.

    Israelis Say Bush Agreed to West Bank Growth, NYT, 4.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/world/middleeast/04israel.html?ref=middleeast

 

 

 

 

 

As Obama Begins Trip, Arabs Want Israeli Gesture

 

June 4, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY and MICHAEL SLACKMAN

 

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Obama arrived here Wednesday afternoon, making his first visit to Saudi Arabia as he opened a five-day trip intended to improve relations between the United States and the Muslim world and push for progress in settling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“The United States and Saudi Arabia have a long history of friendship,” Mr. Obama said, standing alongside King Abdullah, as the two began a series of meetings. “We have a strategic relationship.

He added, “I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek his majesty’s counsel and to discuss with him many of the issues that we confront here in the Middle East.”

Mr. Obama, who flew overnight from Washington, received a royal welcome as he stepped off Air Force One and walked across a red carpet in the grueling afternoon heat. The president and the king exchanged a light embrace and kiss, but Mr. Obama did not bow before the king as he did at their first meeting in London earlier this year, a gesture that drew criticism.

The trip to Saudi Arabia, which comes on the eve of Mr. Obama’s highly anticipated speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, was added to the White House itinerary last week. Administration officials said it would have been diplomatically awkward to be in the region without visiting Saudi Arabia, an important ally.

The king, who placed a gold medallion around Mr. Obama’s neck, smiled as he recalled the visit of another American president to his horse farm outside Riyadh.

“I am not surprised, given the historically strategic ties between our two countries, I believe that go back to the time of the meeting between the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the late King Abdul Aziz,” King Abdullah said. “I also want to express my best wishes to the friendly American people who are represented by a distinguished man who deserves to be in this position.”

Mr. Obama replied, “Shoukran,” using the Arabic for “Thank you.”

On his Middle East tour, Mr. Obama is expected to press the Arab nations to offer a gesture to the Israelis to entice them to accelerate the peace process.

But in his meetings with the Saudi king, he should be prepared for a polite but firm refusal, Saudi officials and political experts say. The Arab countries, they say, believe they have already made their best offer and that it is now up to Israel to make a gesture, perhaps by dismantling settlements in the West Bank or committing to a two-state solution.

“What do you expect the Arabs to give without getting anything in advance, if Israel is still hesitating to accept the idea of two states in itself?” said Mohammad Abdullah al-Zulfa, a historian and member of the Saudi Shura Council, which serves as an advisory panel in place of a parliament.

While not dismissing the possibility of some movement on the peace process, the Saudis say the Arab world made substantial concessions in the Arab Peace Initiative, which was endorsed by a 22-nation coalition during an Arab League summit in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2002. That proposal offered full recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawing to its 1967 borders and agreeing to a “just settlement” to the issue of the Palestinian refugees.

The Saudis are concerned about the potential threat to the coalition should one nation make further concessions on its own. That, they say, could provide the less committed countries a rationale for abandoning the peace initiative, according to officials and regional analysts.

“Any unilateral decision from any Arab head of state will shred the Arab world and tear its ranks, because there will always be those who oppose and those who support,” said Anwar Majid Eshki, director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Riyadh.

Mr. Obama has said he is traveling to the Middle East to push for settling the Arab-Israeli conflict and to improve the image of the United States in the Muslim world. There are likely to be other issues discussed as well, including efforts to curtail Iranian influence in the region and the price and supply of oil.

In Cairo, Mr. Obama is scheduled to give his much anticipated speech from the domed hall at Cairo University, meet with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and visit the Great Pyramids of Giza and the historic Sultan Hassan Mosque.

Before leaving Washington, Mr. Obama signaled that while he would mention American concerns about human rights in Egypt, he would not challenge Mr. Mubarak too sharply, calling him a “force for stability and good” in the Middle East.

In an interview with the BBC released by the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said he did not regard Mr. Mubarak as an authoritarian leader. “No, I tend not to use labels for folks,” Mr. Obama said.

The president noted that there had been criticism “of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt,” but he also said that Mr. Mubarak had been “a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States.”

Officials in Saudi Arabia and Egypt said that Mr. Obama had already made progress on his Middle East agenda, having restored some confidence that the United States is interested in and serious about pushing for a Middle East settlement.

With that reserve of good will, any proposal the president offers will be considered, officials said. But response to it will also be limited by what the leadership here sees as its bottom line: they cannot grant concessions without first gaining some, and all decisions must be agreed to by all members of the Arab League.

“In our estimation we will judge everything by the degree of Israeli commitment, and measures that are taken,” said Ambassador Hossam Zaki, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. “In other words, if the Israeli side remains evasive and does not commit to any substantial move to redress the situation and put it on the right track, it is unlikely to see that Arab countries are going to be responsive to any request of gestures.”

A Saudi official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to discuss details of the presidential visit, said that Arab nations might be willing to accept certain incentives to expedite the peace process, but only if they occur simultaneously with Israeli action.

“It depends on what the Israelis give,” the official said. “Israelis say, ‘We opened a passage.’ Come on, you open a passage, you close a passage. That is not one of the issues. Let’s deal with the major issues.”

It is hard to overstate how much excitement President Obama’s visit here has generated. People across the crowded metropolis of Cairo are marveling at how much sprucing up the government has done, from paving over the road in front of Cairo University to painting light poles and bridges to planting trees and bushes around the Citadel.

Officials, political analysts and residents said there was an atmosphere of what might be described as skeptical optimism. No one here is predicting a breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli conflict; but with the president at least talking about criticizing Israel over its settlement policy and with his personal popularity relatively high, there is a hint of optimism.

“I think we should hear something positive from President Obama,” said Ahmed Kattaan, the Saudi ambassador to the Arab League. “I think he is going in the right way now.”

 

Jeff Zeleny reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Michael Slackman from Cairo. Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo, Peter Baker from Washington, and Sharon Otterman from New York.

    As Obama Begins Trip, Arabs Want Israeli Gesture, NYT, 4.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/world/middleeast/04saudi.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Message on Obama Attributed to Bin Laden

 

June 4, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

 

CAIRO — Just as President Obama arrived in the Middle East, the Al Jazeera television news broadcast an audiotape on Wednesday that it said was Osama bin Laden condemning Mr. Obama for planting new seeds of “hatred and vengeance toward Americans.”

The message focused on President Obama’s decision to step up pressure on extremists in Pakistan. The speaker specifically blamed the president for the Pakistani military’s drive to retake an area in the Swat Valley that had recently come under the control of Taliban forces. He blamed Mr. Obama for the “one million Muslims” who have had to flee their homes because of the fighting. United Nations and Pakistani officials estimate that as many as three million people have been displaced by the conflict. “Obama has followed the footsteps of his predecessor in increasing animosity towards Muslims and increasing enemy fighters and establishing long-term wars,” the recording said. “So the American people should get ready to reap the fruits of what the leaders of the White House have planted throughout the coming years and decades.”

The recording, if verified, is a signal that Mr. bin Laden, the fugitive leader of Al Qaeda, remains alive and in touch with current events, and that he retains effective channels of communication with the outside world. The message was released one day after Mr. bin Laden’s lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued his own audiotape condemning the president.

Many groups with a stake in the future of the Middle East and in relations between the Muslim community and the United States are attempting to ride the wave of attention to the president’s visit. Human rights groups, democracy advocates, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups have all tried to force their agendas to the forefront as the president passes through.

Al Qaeda, however, easily rose to the top of the local news cycle here — especially with what seems to be the recorded voice of Mr. bin Laden, who continues to capture the imagination of those who revile him as well as those who see him as an outlaw hero. It appeared to be the first recording attributed to the Al Qaeda leader since January, when Al Jazeera aired an audio message attributed to him during the Israeli offensive in Gaza and the last days of former President George W. Bush’s term.

“He is of course asserting his ability to be a part of daily political events,” said Amr el-Shobaky, an expert on Islamic movements with the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government funded research institute here. “He is twisting reality and blaming this new administration for things it is not responsible for so that the new administration would look as extreme and no different from the previous Bush administration.”

The recording released Wednesday said that the Pakistani authorities were doing Washington’s bidding when they prevented “implementing Sharia law by fighting and killing and through bombings and destruction.”

The recording continued: “Obama and his administration have planted new seeds to increase hatred and revenge from America. The number of those seeds is the same as the number of those harmed and displaced from Swat Valley and the tribal regions in North and South Waziristan and the number of their sympathizers.”

This is not the first time Al Qaeda has attacked Mr. Obama. In a blunt personal attack on the incoming president in November, Mr. Zawahri painted Mr. Obama as a hypocrite and a traitor to his race, comparing him unfavorably with ”honorable black Americans” like Malcolm X, the 1960s black Muslim leader, and referring to him as a “house Negro,” using a direct translation of a term Malcolm X himself used.

The latest recording and the attention it provoked served as a reminder of what is at stake as the president tries to recalibrate America’s image throughout the Muslim world. This trip, and the speech he is scheduled to give in Cairo tomorrow, are part of a broad diplomatic push that has included a speech in Turkey, an appearance on an Arabic language satellite news channel and a video message sent to Iran during Persian New Year celebrations.

“This is an important indicator as to how much we need this new administration to exert more effort in marginalizing Osama Bin Laden’s discourse so that he is not able to exploit popular causes towards violence,” Mr. Shobaky said.

The president faces a challenge as he tries appear sensitive to the Islamic world, respectful of the region’s leaders, and yet not appear to turn a blind eye to the human rights violations and autocratic practices the constrain the lives of average people. That is one area that Al Qaeda continues to try to exploit.

“If Obama comes to Egypt he will be received by its torturers, its thieves, and its corrupt who turned Egypt into an international station of torture in America’s war against Islam,” Mr. Zawahri said.

The president plans to spend the night in Riyadh, the Saudi capital and is scheduled to arrive in Cairo on Thursday morning. His speech is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. local time (6:10 a.m. Eastern time).

    Message on Obama Attributed to Bin Laden, NYT, 4.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/world/middleeast/04binladen.html

 

 

 

 

 

To Open a Muslim Dialogue, Obama Visits Saudi King

 

June 3, 2009
Filed at 7:41 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

RIYDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- President Barack Obama is in Saudi Arabia after an overnight flight from Washington. Obama is planning to meet with Saudi King Abdullah to discuss a host of thorny problems, from Arab-Israeli peace efforts to Iran's nuclear program. The surge in oil prices also was on the agenda.

The president was to stay overnight at the king's horse farm in the desert outside Riyadh before heading to Egypt.

The talks with the monarch come a day before the president is to deliver a highly anticipated speech in Cairo on the U.S. relationship with the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is beginning his latest bid to open a dialogue with the Muslim world by paying a call on Saudi King Abdullah, guardian of Islam's sacred sites in Mecca and Medina.

The monarch of Saudi Arabia plans to greet Obama at Riyadh's main airport with coffee and ceremony when he arrives Wednesday after an overnight flight from Washington.

Saudi Arabia is a stopover en route to Cairo, where Obama is to set deliver a speech that he's been promising since last year's election campaign -- aiming to set a new tone in America's often-strained dealings with the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.

Many of those Muslims still smolder over Iraq, Guantanamo and unflinching U.S. support of Israel, but they are hoping the son of a Kenyan Muslim who lived part of his childhood in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, can help chart a new course.

''You know, there are misapprehensions about the West, on the part of the Muslim world,'' Obama said in a pretrip interview with the BBC. ''And, obviously, there are some big misapprehensions about the Muslim world when it comes to those of us in the West.''

Aides cautioned that Obama was not out to break new policy ground in his Cairo speech, which follows visits to Turkey and Iraq in April and a series of outreach efforts including a Persian New Year video and a student town hall in Istanbul. And they said the president is not expecting quick results, even though the speech will be distributed as widely as possible.

''We don't expect that everything will change after one speech,'' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. ''I think it will take a sustained effort and that's what the president is in for.''

Officials said Obama also wouldn't flinch from difficult topics, whether it's the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the goal of a Palestinian state or democracy and human rights. Obama has been criticized for setting the address in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak has jailed dissidents and clung to power for nearly three decades.

In Riyadh, the president was talking to Abdullah about a host of thorny problems, from Arab-Israeli peace efforts to Iran's nuclear program. The Saudis have voiced growing concern in private that an Iranian bomb could unleash a nuclear arms race in the region.

The surge in oil prices also was on the agenda. Crude topped $68 a barrel this week, sparking fears that a fresh jump in energy costs could snuff out early sparks of a recovery from a deep global slump.

Obama likely will be looking for help from Saudi Arabia on what to do with some 100 Yemeni detainees locked up in the Guantanamo Bay prison. Discussions over where to send the Yemeni detainees have complicated Obama's plan to close the prison. The U.S. has been hesitant to send them home because of Yemen's history of either releasing extremists or allowing them to escape from prison.

Instead, the Obama administration has been negotiating with Saudi Arabia and Yemen for months to send them to Saudi terrorist rehabilitation centers.

The president was to stay overnight at the king's horse farm in the desert outside Riyadh. Abdullah, who hosted then-President George W. Bush at the ranch in January of last year, keeps some 260 Arabian horses on its sprawling grounds in air-conditioned comfort.

In any effort to court Muslims, the Saudis will be key -- not just for their oil wealth, but by virtue of the authority they wield at the center of Arab history and culture.

Obama's meeting with the 84-year-old Abdullah will be his second in three months. The two saw each other at the G-20 summit in London, a meeting both sides called friendly and productive. Perhaps a bit too friendly: Critics accused Obama of bowing to the Saudi monarch during a photo-op. The White House maintained he was merely bending to shake hands with a shorter man.

''This in many ways will be one of the pivotal relationships President Obama can develop,'' said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. ''Saudi Arabia is important not just in terms of the Gulf and oil prices. It sets the tenor. It's one of the most conservative regimes. It's also important because King Abdullah is, among the various royals, more open-minded than others. These are two men who might actually deal well with each other.''

    To Open a Muslim Dialogue, Obama Visits Saudi King, NYT, 3.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/03/us/politics/AP-US-Obama.html

 

 

 

 

 

Arab States Cool to Obama Pleas for Peace Gesture

 

June 3, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN

 

CAIRO — President Obama starts his much anticipated Middle East tour on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, where he is expected to press the Arab nations to offer a gesture to the Israelis to entice them to accelerate the peace process.

But when he meets in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, with King Abdullah, he should be prepared for a polite but firm refusal, Saudi officials and political experts say. The Arab countries, they say, believe they have already made their best offer and that it is now up to Israel to make a gesture, perhaps by dismantling settlements in the West Bank or committing to a two-state solution.

“What do you expect the Arabs to give without getting anything in advance, if Israel is still hesitating to accept the idea of two states in itself?” said Mohammad Abdullah al-Zulfa, a historian and member of the Saudi Shura Council, which serves as an advisory panel in place of a parliament.

While not dismissing the possibility of some movement on the peace process, the Saudis say the Arab world made substantial concessions in the Arab Peace Initiative, which was endorsed by a 22-nation coalition during an Arab League summit in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2002. That proposal offered full recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawing to its 1967 borders and agreeing to a “just settlement” to the issue of the Palestinian refugees.

The Saudis are concerned about the potential threat to the coalition should one nation make further concessions on its own. That, they say, could provide the less committed countries a rationale for abandoning the peace initiative, according to officials and regional analysts.

“Any unilateral decision from any Arab head of state will shred the Arab world and tear its ranks, because there will always be those who oppose and those who support,” said Anwar Majid Eshki, director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Riyadh.

President Obama has said he is traveling to the Middle East to push for settling the Arab-Israeli conflict and to improve the image of the United States in the Muslim world. There are likely to be other issues discussed as well, including efforts to curtail Iranian influence in the region and the price and supply of oil.

After visiting Saudi Arabia, President Obama is to arrive in Cairo, where he is scheduled to meet with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, give a much anticipated speech from the domed hall at Cairo University and visit the Great Pyramids of Giza and the historic Sultan Hassan Mosque.

Before leaving Washington, Mr. Obama signaled that while he would mention American concerns about human rights in Egypt, he would not challenge Mr. Mubarak too sharply, calling him a “force for stability and good” in the Middle East.

In an interview with the BBC released by the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said he did not regard Mr. Mubarak as an authoritarian leader. “No, I tend not to use labels for folks,” Mr. Obama said.

The president noted that there had been criticism “of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt,” but he also said that Mr. Mubarak had been “a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States.”

Officials in Saudi Arabia and Egypt said that Mr. Obama had already made progress on his Middle East agenda, having restored some confidence that the United States is interested in and serious about pushing for a Middle East settlement.

With that reserve of good will, any proposal the president offers will be considered, officials said. But response to it will also be limited by what the leadership here sees as its bottom line: they cannot grant concessions without first gaining some, and all decisions must be agreed to by all members of the Arab League.

“In our estimation we will judge everything by the degree of Israeli commitment, and measures that are taken,” said Ambassador Hossam Zaki, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. “In other words, if the Israeli side remains evasive and does not commit to any substantial move to redress the situation and put it on the right track, it is unlikely to see that Arab countries are going to be responsive to any request of gestures.”

A Saudi official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to discuss details of the presidential visit, said that Arab nations might be willing to accept certain incentives to expedite the peace process, but only if they occur simultaneously with Israeli action.

“It depends on what the Israelis give,” the official said. “Israelis say, ‘We opened a passage.’ Come on, you open a passage, you close a passage. That is not one of the issues. Let’s deal with the major issues.”

It is hard to overstate how much excitement President Obama’s visit here has generated. People across the crowded metropolis of Cairo are marveling at how much sprucing up the government has done, from paving over the road in front of Cairo University to painting light poles and bridges to planting trees and bushes around the Citadel.

Officials, political analysts and residents said there was an atmosphere of what might be described as skeptical optimism. No one here is predicting a breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli conflict; but with the president at least talking about criticizing Israel over its settlement policy and with his personal popularity relatively high, there is a hint of optimism.

“I think we should hear something positive from President Obama,” said Ahmed Kattaan, the Saudi ambassador to the Arab League. “I think he is going in the right way now.”

 

 

 

Qaeda Deputy Denounces Obama

CAIRO (AP) — Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, on Tuesday said President Obama’s speech to the Islamic world would not change the “bloody messages” he was sending to Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Zawahri’s audio message was posted on militants’ Web sites.

 

Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo, and Peter Baker from Washington.

    Arab States Cool to Obama Pleas for Peace Gesture, NYT, 3.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/world/middleeast/03saudi.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Plays Down Split Over Israeli Settlements

 

June 3, 2009
The New York Times
By ALAN COWELL and HELENE COOPER

 

LONDON — On the eve of a visit to the Middle East and Europe, President Obama on Tuesday played down a dispute with Israel over his demand for a suspension of further Jewish settlement in the West Bank but reiterated his call for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians that Israel’s hawkish leaders have not accepted.

Mr. Obama said that he believed the United States was “going to be able to get serious negotiations back on track” between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli officials have publicly rejected Mr. Obama’s call for all expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be frozen, saying natural expansion of the settlements should be permitted.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Obama also said he hoped to achieve progress by the end of the year on the dispute over Iran’s contentious nuclear activity through “tough, direct diplomacy.” He insisted that Iran “set aside ambitions for a nuclear weapon.” Tehran says its nuclear enrichment program is solely for civilian purposes.

The president is to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and deliver a keynote speech to the Muslim world from Cairo on Thursday. He then plans to travel to France for the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944 that turned the tide of World War II in Europe.

The visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt will be his first as president. In an earlier visit to the region in April after the Group of 20 summit in London, he traveled to Turkey and Iraq.

On Monday, President Obama indicated that he would be more willing to criticize Israel than previous administrations have been.

“Part of being a good friend is being honest,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with NPR News. “And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests.

“We do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace,” he added. “I’ve said that a freeze on settlements is part of that.”

His comments were made as Israeli officials dug in their heels against a settlement freeze. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that halting construction in settlements in the West Bank would be equal to “freezing life,” and, therefore, “unreasonable.”

In the 15-minute interview on Tuesday, broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Mr. Obama said the “conversation” with Israel was at an early stage — both on the settlement issue and on the demand for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“Not only is it in the interest of the Palestinian people to have a state, it’s in the interest of the Israeli people to stabilize the situation there,” he said.

“And it’s in the interest of the United States that we’ve got two states living side by side in peace and security.”

Referring to the debate about settlements, he said: “Diplomacy is always a matter of a long hard slog. It’s never a matter of quick results.”

He also said it was “in the world’s interests for Iran to set aside ambitions for a nuclear weapon.”

“Although I don’t want to put artificial time tables on that process, we do want to make sure that, by the end of this year, we’ve actually seen a serious process move forward,” he said.

 

Alan Cowell reported from London, and Helene Cooper from Washington.

    Obama Plays Down Split Over Israeli Settlements, NYT, 2.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/world/middleeast/03prexy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Talks of Being ‘Honest’ With Israel

 

June 2, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama indicated on Monday that he would be more willing to criticize Israel than previous administrations have been, and he reiterated his call for a freeze of Israeli settlements.

“Part of being a good friend is being honest,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with NPR News. “And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests.

“We do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace,” he added. “I’ve said that a freeze on settlements is part of that.”

His comments, on the eve of his first trip as president to the Middle East, where he is scheduled to give a speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on Thursday, were made as Israeli officials dug in their heels against a settlement freeze. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Monday that halting construction in settlements in the West Bank would be equal to “freezing life,” and, therefore, “unreasonable.”

Mr. Obama declined to say what he would do if Israel continued to balk at halting all construction. But he said that Israel needed to hear the truth, as he saw it. He also said that in the past, American officials had not been willing to call things as they saw them. “That’s part of a new dialogue that I’d like to see encouraged in the region,” he said.

Mr. Obama leaves Wednesday morning for a five-day trip to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany and France. Israel is not on his itinerary. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he is expected to press King Abdullah to engage more fully on Arab-Israeli peace and to make an overture to Israel, possibly a tall order. In a separate interview with the BBC on Monday, Mr. Obama hinted at that, saying, “I think we have not seen a set of potential gestures from other Arab states, or from the Palestinians, that might deal with some Israeli concerns.”

Many in the Muslim world are waiting to see what Mr. Obama will do if, as expected, Israel ignores his request on the settlements. When asked about this during the NPR interview, Mr. Obama indicated that he was not yet ready to stipulate an “or else,” despite the fact that several American presidents before him have demanded settlement freezes in Israel and been ignored.

“The United States has to follow through on what it says,” Mr. Obama said.

He added: “I haven’t said anything yet because it’s still early in the process. They’ve formed a government, what, a month ago?”

Mr. Obama also dismissed criticism that he should not deliver his speech to the Muslim world from Cairo because of Egypt’s poor record in upholding human rights. “It’s a mistake to suggest that we’re not going to deal with countries around the world in the absence of them meeting all our demands,” he said.

    Obama Talks of Being ‘Honest’ With Israel, NYT, 2.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/world/middleeast/02prexy.html?ref=middleeast

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Talks Health Care Before Leaving for Mideast

 

June 2, 2009
Filed at 4:57 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama holds talks on health care today and signs a measure paving the way to honor former President Ronald Reagan before traveling to the Middle East.

The White House says the president will meet with Senate Democratic leaders to discuss how to get rising health care costs under control.

The president later will sign the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act. The measure sets up a commission to plan and carry out activities honoring the late president in time for the 100th anniversary of his birth, in 2011.

Obama leaves in the evening on his overseas trip aimed at reaching out to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. The president will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He will deliver a long-promised speech in Cairo.

    Obama Talks Health Care Before Leaving for Mideast, NYT, 2.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/02/us/politics/AP-US-Obama-Preview.html

 

 

 

 

 

Israel and U.S. Can’t Close Split on Settlements

 

June 2, 2009
The New York Times
By ISABEL KERSHNER

 

KFAR TAPUAH, West Bank — Thirty Israeli couples are on a waiting list to move into the Kfar Tapuah settlement, which teems with children on the hilltops south of Nablus. Some on the list grew up here. But there is not an apartment available for sale or rent, or even a stifling trailer to be had.

If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation’s overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank, according to unpublished official data provided to The New York Times.

The decision of whether to build, and how much, goes to the heart of the tensions between the administrations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Obama, an unaccustomed and no-budge conflict between Israel and the United States. Washington is standing firm against any additional settlement construction in the West Bank, including what Israel argues is necessary to accommodate what it terms “natural growth.”

That term has been defined vaguely by Israeli officials, meaning for some that settlements should expand to accommodate only their own children. But Mr. Netanyahu, of the conservative Likud Party, made his own wider position clear on Monday. He said that while Israel would not allow new settlements and that some small outposts would be removed, building within the confines of established settlements should go on.

Israel “cannot freeze life in the settlements,” he said, describing the American call as an “unreasonable” demand.

And in fact, whatever the American demands and Israeli definitions, the reality is that no full freeze seems likely.

The issue is, in part, political: Mr. Netanyahu is trying to hold together a fractious coalition, including parties that favor settlement building and oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state. He must contend with an aggressive settler movement, emboldened by support from Israeli governments for decades and determined to continue building, if necessary through unofficial means.

“It is important for the world to know we won’t stop,” said Doron Hillel, 29, the settlement council head and one of the first children born here after it was founded about 30 years ago. “These decrees make things difficult, but they strengthen us. We will continue to build and grow.”

A partial freeze has been in place for several years, but settlers have found ways around the strictures. Twenty trailer homes have been assembled in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, for young families over the past year. The Samaria Council, which represents settlers in the northern West Bank, has brought in 150 trailers. Thousands of permanent houses have been illegally constructed within existing settlements, and settlers have recently bulldozed new roads through fields to link up the outposts.

Critics argue that successive Israeli governments have turned a blind eye to this construction and that they have contributed more broadly to settlement growth.

The settlers’ annual population growth, at 5.6 percent, far outstrips the Israeli average of 1.8 percent. But official data from the Central Bureau of Statistics of Israel shows that while about two-thirds of that is a “natural” increase, as defined by settler births in relation to deaths, one-third stems from migration. There is also a disproportionately high level of state-supported building in the settlements compared with most regions of Israel.

And many critics of the settlement movement dispute the notion that settlers’ children have an absolute right to continue living in their parents’ settlement.

“A newborn does not need a house,” said Dror Etkes of Yesh Din, an Israeli group that fights for the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories. “It is a game the Israeli government is playing” to justify construction, he said.

Underlining the competing pressures on Mr. Netanyahu, extremist settlers rioted on Monday in various parts of the northern West Bank, stoning Arab vehicles, burning tires and setting fields alight, according to a witness and the police. They were protesting the government’s recent actions against some tiny outposts. Several Palestinians were wounded. Six Israeli settlers and a rightist member of Parliament were arrested and later released.

The Israeli population of the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, has tripled since the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort started in the early 1990s, and it now approaches 300,000. The settlers live among 2.5 million Palestinians in about 120 settlements, which much of the world considers a violation of international law, as well as in dozens of outposts erected without official Israeli authorization. Israel argues that the settlement enterprise does not violate the law against transferring populations into occupied territories.

According to the newly disclosed data, about 58,800 housing units have been built with government approval in the West Bank settlements over the past 40 years. An additional 46,500 have already obtained Defense Ministry approval within the existing master plans, awaiting nothing more than a government decision to build.

The data began to be compiled in 2004 by a retired brigadier general, Baruch Spiegel, at the request of the defense minister at the time, Shaul Mofaz. The Defense Ministry has long refused to make the data public, but it has since been leaked and obtained by nongovernmental groups. Mr. Etkes analyzed the master plans in the Spiegel data, together with a colleague from Bimkom, an Israeli group that focuses on planning and social justice.

Under international pressure, construction in the settlements has slowed but never stopped, continuing at an annual rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 units over the past three years. If building continues at the 2008 rate, the 46,500 units already approved will be completed in about 20 years.

In Kfar Tapuah, a group of young Israelis who grew up here decided about six years ago that when they married, they would stay. The population has more than doubled since then, to 150 families from 60. Like in other West Bank settlements, nobody counts individuals here: the rate of new births makes that impossible.

Revitalized from within, the community also attracted young couples from other settlements and from cities in Israel who were seeking a lifestyle that combined relatively cheap suburban comfort with the national-religious ideal of settling the land.

Kfar Tapuah has a reputation as an extremist settlement, having become a base for the followers of the virulently anti-Arab Rabbi Meir Kahane after he was assassinated in 1990. It now seems overrun by young children. A $150,000 state-of-the-art playground recently went up, a second kindergarten just opened and a third is planned.

“This is our land from the beginning of days,” said Aviva Herzlich, 67, most of whose 10 children and more than 40 grandchildren live in and around the settlement. “We do not have anywhere else.”

    Israel and U.S. Can’t Close Split on Settlements, NYT, 2.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/world/middleeast/02mideast.html?ref=middleeast

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton Details Conditions for Cuba Entry to OAS

 

June 2, 2009
Filed at 12:01 p.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times

 

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that any move toward allowing Cuba to join the Organization of American States must be accompanied by the communist nation's release of political prisoners, respect for basic human rights and democratic reforms.

''We do look forward to the day when Cuba can join the OAS,'' she told a breakfast meeting with Caribbean foreign ministers. ''But we believe that membership in the OAS must come with responsibilities and we owe it to each other to uphold our standards of democracy and governance that have brought so much progress to our hemisphere.''

''It is not about reliving the past,'' Clinton said. ''It is about the future of being true to the founding principles of this organization.''

The United States is largely isolated within the OAS in demanding conditions. Top officials from members of the OAS have been nearly unanimous in calling for Cuba to be allowed to rejoin the 34-nation group without conditions.

Despite President Barack Obama's tentative overtures to Cuba, Clinton, who is attending the session, says any move to allow Cuba to rejoin the group must be accompanied by changes by its government.

Faced with a solid bloc of countries opposed to the conditions, U.S. officials are hoping to stall a vote on reversing Cuba's nearly 50-year-old suspension from the OAS without demands for change.

Clinton expressed hope that a ''common way forward'' could be found.

But the region's growing number of socialist leaders, spearheaded by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales and El Salvador President Mauricio Funes are pressing for a vote, and U.S. officials are unsure how the meeting will proceed.

Even though Cuba has expressed no interest in rejoining the bloc and the organization generally makes decision by consensus, proponents can push ahead with a resolution that needs only a two-thirds majority, or 23 votes, to pass.

OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said Tuesday that the group ''has always agreed on main issues by consensus. I don't believe it would take away that tradition today because it has also been very useful.''

''Only the foreign ministers can take a decision (on Cuba) now,'' he said.

Forcing a vote would put Clinton in a difficult position because regional and U.S. officials believe there are easily enough countries in favor. Diplomats have been scrambling to reach consensus on a compromise resolution but as of late Monday had been unable to do so.

The administration is toeing a delicate line as it reaches out to Cuban leader Raul Castro and by extension his ailing brother Fidel by lifting restrictions on money transfers and travel to the island by Americans with family there.

Cuba agreed over the weekend to a U.S. proposal to resume immigration talks with Washington that former President George W. Bush suspended in 2003 and to negotiations on restarting direct mail service between the two countries. It has also proposed exploring cooperation on counternarcotics and terrorism as well as on disaster preparedness.

But the Castros have repeatedly said they want a full lifting of the decades-old U.S. embargo on Cuba, something the administration has refused to consider without reforms. That stance has left the United States increasingly isolated.

Clinton is at Tuesday's meeting as the representative of the last country in the Western Hemisphere without full diplomatic ties with Cuba.

El Salvador had been the only other one, but in his first act as president, Funes on Monday restored his country's diplomatic relations with Cuba that had been broken in 1961.

The signing ceremony to commemorate that event was held in the same room at the presidential palace in San Salvador where Clinton and Funes later held their joint news conference.

Clinton Details Conditions for Cuba Entry to OAS, NYT, 2.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/02/world/AP-LT-US-Clinton-Americas.html