Often the U.S. starts by dictating, says President; asks Mitchell to listen to them

CAIRO: U.S. President Barack Obama chose an Arabic satellite TV network for his first formal television interview as President, delivering a message on Tuesday to the Muslim world that “Americans are not your enemy.”

The interview underscored Mr. Obama’s commitment to repair relations with the Muslim world that have suffered under the previous administration.

The President expressed an intention to engage West Asia immediately, and his new envoy to the region, former Senator George J. Mitchell, was expected to arrive in Egypt on Tuesday for a visit that will also take him to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

“Not your enemy”

“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” Mr. Obama told the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel.

Mr. Obama noted that the U.S. had made mistakes in the past, but “that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”

New partnership

Mr. Obama called for a new partnership with the Muslim world “based on mutual respect and mutual interest.” He talked about growing up in Indonesia, the Muslim world’s most populous nation, and noted that he has Muslim relatives.

The President said he felt it was important to “get engaged right away” in West Asia and had directed Mr. Mitchell to talk to “all the major parties involved.” His administration would craft an approach after that, he said in the interview.

“What I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating,” Mr. Obama told the interviewer.

The President reiterated the U.S. commitment to Israel as an ally, and to its right to defend itself.

But he suggested that both Israel and the Palestinians have hard choices to make.

“I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realise that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people,” he said.

“Al-Qaeda nervous”

Mr. Obama also noted that recent statements and messages issued by the Al-Qaeda terror network suggest they do not know how to deal with his new approach.

“They seem nervous,” he told the interviewer. “What that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt.”

In his latest message on January 14, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden said Mr. Obama had been left with a “heavy inheritance” of the former President, George Bush’s wars.

The message suggested the terror network was worried Mr. Obama could undermine its rallying cry that the U.S. is an enemy oppressor. — AP