Washington: US President Barack Obama told the Muslim world that “Americans are not your enemy” as he urged Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table and offered a diplomatic hand to Iranian leaders if they “unclenched their fist.”
In an interview with the Al-Arabiya satellite television network on Monday, Obama, a week after his historic inauguration as the country’s first African-American president, also renewed his pledge to travel to make an address in the capital of a major Muslim nation.
Obama noted he had lived in Indonesia for several years while growing up and said his travels through Muslim nations had convinced him that regardless of faith, people had certain common hopes and dreams.
“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy -- we sometimes make mistakes -- we have not been perfect,” Obama said in the Al-Arabiya TV interview.
“But if you look at the track record... America was not born as a colonial power, and 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.”
Obama was asked about the highly personal tone of recent Al-Qaeda messages released since he was elected president in November.
He agreed with his interviewer that the tone of recent videos seemed “nervous”.
“What that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt,” he said.
Obama, who has promised to directly address Middle East questions at the start of his presidency rather than waiting for years like his predecessor George W. Bush, said he did not want expectations raised too high for swift progress for Middle East peace, following the Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza.
But he said he believes “that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people.
“Instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.”
The new US president had earlier met with new US Mideast envoy George Mitchell at the White House along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mitchell left Tuesday for a mission to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, London and Paris.
“If we start the steady progress on these issues, I’m absolutely confident that the United States, working in tandem with the European Union, with Russia, with all the Arab States in the region -- I’m absolutely certain that we can make significant progress,” Obama told the Dubai-based network.
Obama also said in the interview that the United States would in the next few months lay out a general framework of policy towards Tehran.
“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.
Earlier, Susan Rice, the new US ambassador to the United Nations made her debut and pledged “vigorous” and “direct” nuclear diplomacy with Iran but warned of increased pressure if Tehran refuses to halt uranium enrichment.
“We will look at what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure toward that goal of ending Iran’s nuclear program,” she added.
“Dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council and its continued refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.”
The five permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany have offered Tehran economic and energy incentives in exchange for halting its uranium enrichment program, which the West sees as a cover to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.