CAIRO - “The people of the world can live together in peace,” US President Barack Obama told the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims in a much-anticipated speech from Cairo Thursday.
Members of the audience at Cairo University burst into chants of “Obama, Obama!” at the conclusion of the US president’s wide-ranging speech that tackled head-on many of the irritants in US relations with the Muslim world.
Obama acknowledged the role the US and other western countries had played in stoking tensions between his country and Muslims around the world, beginning with colonialism and culminating in the war in Iraq.
But he also strongly condemned the “violent extremists” who “have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims”.
“So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace,” the US president said. “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,” Obama said.
Obama condemned anti-Semitism and denial of the Holocaust. Saying the “strong bonds” between the US and Israel were “unbreakable”, he called on Hamas to “put an end to violence, recognise past agreements, and recognise Israel’s right to exist”.
“At the same time,” Obama continued, “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… It is time for these settlements to stop.”
Obama contrasted the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but assured his audience the US had no plans to stay in either. He called the war in Afghanistan a war of “necessity”, and emphasised the billions of dollars in US civilian economic aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He repeated his pledge to withdraw all US soldiers from Iraq by 2012, adding that while “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.”
Acknowledging the US role in “overthrowing a democratically elected government” in Iran, Obama urged that country and others to abandon their nuclear-weapons programmes.
“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,” he said.
He further pledged to uphold democratic values, the rights of women and religious freedoms, saying they “are not just American ideas, they are human rights”.
“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,” Obama said Thursday.
“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,” Obama concluded to thunderous applause.
Earlier Thursday, Obama met his Egyptian host, Hosny Mubarak, and promised to continue to seek his counsel on regional affairs, before visiting Cairo’s 600-year-old Sultan Hassan mosque with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The US president is scheduled to tour the Pyramids at Giza and to meet US Embassy officials, before leaving Cairo Thursday evening for Dresden, Germany.