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Obama renews vow of "new beginning" with Muslims
Tue, Apr 27, 2010
AFP

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Monday renewed his commitment to a "new beginning" with the
Muslim world, vowing no let-up in US efforts to promote Middle East peace, curb militant violence and boost economic development.

Seeking to build on his outreach to MUSlims in a speech in Cairo last June, Obama used a US-hosted Muslim business conference to underscore what his administration has done so far and to pledge further work to overcome mistrust.

While Obama has made progress toward mending America's image in the Islamic world, he still faces stiff challenges in his handling of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the nuclear standoff with Iran and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I knew that this vision would not be fulfilled in a single year, or even several. But I knew we had to begin and that all of us have responsibilities to fulfill," Obama told the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.

The focus on business development marked the Obama administration's strategy of trying to broaden the conversation with Muslims beyond the "war on terrorism" that dominated the Bush-era approach and alienated many.

But, speaking to an audience of 250 business people from more than 50 countries, Obama also waded into some of the hot-button issues between Washington and the Muslim world that he acknowledged "have often been a source of tension."

Many Muslims are especially disappointed by Obama's failure so far to advance Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking despite promising in his first days in office to make it a high priority.

He assured his audience he would not abandon US diplomatic efforts, which have been stymied by a dispute with
Israel over Jewish settlement building and divisions among the Palestinians.

"Despite the inevitable difficulties, so long as I am president, the United States will never waver in our pursuit of
a two-state solution that ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians," Obama pledged. But he offered no new initiative to revive long-stalled peace talks.

Obama also asserted that the United States was "responsibly ending" the war in Iraq and "in Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond, we're forging new partnerships to isolate violent extremists, combat corruption and foster the development that improves lives and communities."

Delivering on a promise

The two-day conference sought to deliver on a promise Obama made in his Cairo speech, in which he pledged to do more to boost economic development and bolster US bUSiness ties with the Muslim world.

Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had been widely criticized by Muslims for the perception that his
administration viewed them mostly through the lens of terrorism.

Under Bush, America's image in the Muslim world suffered mostly because of the Iraq war, the Abu Ghrab
prisoner abuse scandal and the Guantanamo detention centre.

"There's so much more we can do together, in partnership, to foster opportunity and prosperity in all our countries,"Obama said as he sought to focus more on talking about doing business together.

He announced a series of efforts, including exchange programs for women in technology and for high tech leaders from Silicon Valley to share their expertise, said his global technology and innovation fund would "potentially mobilize" more than US$2 billion in private capital.

"The new beginning we seek is not only possible, it has already begun," Obama said, echoing the language of his Cairo speech.

"It exists within each of you, and millions around the world who believe, like we do, that the future belongs not to
those who would divide US, but to those who come together; not to those who would destroy, but those who would build."

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke challenged the entrepreneurs to take "the tremendoussuccess that all of you have had individually and expand it throughout the Islamic world."

In addition to Locke, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior US officials will participate in sessions alongside private sector experts like Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang, Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus and Arif Naqvi, head of Abraaj Capital, the largest private equity firm in the Middle East.

While the summit was widely viewed as a positive step, analysts said Obama ultimately would be judged in the Muslim world not by his hosting of business conferences but on his handling of big geopolitical issues.

Aside from the Middle East, Obama has struggled to advance on other fronts. The administration is pushing ahead with its strategy for the war in Afghanistan despite increasingly brittle relations with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.

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