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Obama extends hand to Muslims

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

President Obama marked his first foreign trip by including Muslims in the "extended hand" foreign policy that he has launched as phase one of his presidency internationally.

Barack Obama visits the Ataturk Mausoleum, Ankara
President Obama praised the secular foundations of the Turkish state

In a speech to the Turkish parliament in Ankara, he said: "The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam."

He stressed that American relations with the "Muslim community" worldwide were not narrowly based.

"(They) will not be based on opposition to al-Qaeda," he said.

"We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world for the better, including my own country."

He said that US partnership with the Muslim world was "critical... in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject".

He went out of his way to be placatory and acknowledged that trust had been "strained" of late, in an unspoken reference to the George W Bush years.

"We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding... We will be respectful, even when we do not agree," he said.

He will continue this theme in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Two-state solution

The speech contained signals of interest to Muslim listeners.

For example, the president emphasised that he was committed to a two-state solution for an Israel and Palestine living side by side.

He mentioned by name the 2007 Annapolis agreement, in which Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed in principle on the two-state solution, thereby rejecting the view of the new Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman that Annapolis is not valid.

It was also significant that the speech took place in a largely Muslim country, albeit one with a strong secular tradition going back to its founder Kemal Ataturk, whom he praised.

Anti-US protest in Baghdad (March 2009)
Mr Obama hopes to ease anti-US sentiment in the Muslim world

Indeed, Mr Obama dwelt at some length on the development of Turkish democracy and how reform should continue, an indicator that, for him, religion should not be a cover for resistance to change.

His message was very much in line with what he has been offering on this tour.

His theme is the extended hand. It applies to friend and potential foe alike, with the exception of those - he mentioned al-Qaeda for one - who had to be met, as he put in this speech, "with force".

He has pressed the reset button with Russia, has promised a "strategic dialogue" with China, has called on Iran to "engage" with the US, has reformulated policy in Afghanistan, and - with personal charm and a new approach - has won over Europeans tired of George W Bush.

And now, the Muslim world is included.

First phase

It is however only the first phase of his foreign policy, because it is as yet unclear what happens if there are no results.

What if, for example, Iran continues on its present ambiguous course of enriching uranium, in which it appears to be acquiring the means by which to make nuclear weapons while denying that it intends to do so?

What if Russia and the US cannot resolve their differences over missile defence?

President Jimmy Carter also began like this but ran into the realities of world politics on several fronts - Iran seized hostages at the US embassy in Tehran, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

Jimmy Carter's days in office were ended when Ronald Reagan took over and switched foreign and defence policy towards seeking American safety not through negotiation but through power.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk



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