President Barack Obama reached out to Iran, put the Middle East at the centre of his agenda, but reminded the world that Israel’s “security is paramount” in an interview with Dubai broadcaster al-Arabiya – his first with a foreign network.
Al-Arabiya is one of the biggest networks in the Arab world and Obama used the interview to stress his links to the Muslim world. The last time George W Bush spoke to the network he was denying he was an “enemy of Islam”. Times change.
According to a report in the Washington Post Obama expressed optimism about the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians as he dispatched George Mitchell, his special envoy for Middle East peace. Mitchell is heading to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and the UK.
“All too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved,” Obama told al-Arabiya. “So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.”
Obama went on to reiterate US support for Israel. “Israel is a strong ally of the United States,” said Obama. “They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel’s security is paramount. But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side.”
He used the al-Arabiya interview to further distance himself from Bush. When asked about the use of the term “War On Terror” he talked about the importance of language.
“We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down. But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship.
“Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries,” Obama said.
He also use the interview to focus on Iran and said he planned to engage with it. He said that the US must be “willing to talk to Iran” and that he would lay out a “framework” for those discussions over the next several months.
“As I said in my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”
“It is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran,” Obama said.
Gene adds: Here’s the transcript of the Al Arabiya interview.