Obama Urges "New Beginning" With Muslims

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses an audience at the Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt Thursday, June 4, 2009.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis
Last updated 7:03 p.m. ET

President Obama called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims" Thursday and said together, they could confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East.

"This cycle of suspicion and discord must end," Mr. Obama said in a widely anticipated speech in one of the world's largest Muslim countries, an address designed to reframe relations after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq.

At 55 minutes, the speech was the president's longest yet, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid. Yet, Mr. Obama's speech contained no new policy proposals on the Middle East. He said American ties with Israel are unbreakable, yet issued a firm, evenhanded call to the Jewish state and Palestinians alike to live up to their international obligations.

In a gesture, Mr. Obama conceded at the beginning of his remarks that tension "has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations." (Transcript Of The Remarks | Full Video)

"And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear," said the president, who recalled hearing prayer calls of "azaan" at dawn and dusk while living in Indonesia as a boy.

At the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse. "Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire."

Mr. Obama spoke at Cairo University after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the second stop of a four-nation trip to the Middle East and Europe. CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reports that excitement awaited Mr. Obama on the streets of Cairo, where crowds chanted praise for America's new president. There was also a first in Cairo - T-shirts and souvenirs with the name of an American president on sale, indicating Mr. Obama's personal popularity.

The speech was the centerpiece of his journey, and while its tone was striking, the president also covered the Middle East peace process, Iran, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the violence struggle waged by al Qaeda. Despite the hype surrounding the speech, Mr. Obama downplayed any short-term effects, Reid reports.

"Change cannot happen overnight," Mr. Obama said. "No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust."

Mr. Obama arrived in the Middle East on Wednesday, greeted by a new and threatening message from al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden. In an audio recording, the terrorist leader said the president inflamed the Muslim world by ordering Pakistan to crack down on militants in Swat Valley and block Islamic law there.

But the president said the actions of violent extremist Muslims are "irreconcilable with the rights of human beings," and quoted the Quran to make his point.

"Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism - it is an important part of promoting peace," he said.

"Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist," he said of the organization the United States deems as terrorists.

"The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people."

"At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" on the West Bank and outskirts of Jerusalem, he said. "It is time for these settlements to stop."

As for Jerusalem itself, he said it should be a "secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims ..." (Read more key passages from the speech here.)

Mr. Obama also said the Arab nations should no longer use the conflict with Israel to distract their own people from other problems.

Photos: Obama In Egypt
The president delivers his long-awaited speech to the Muslim world. (Photo: AP)

He treaded lightly on one issue that former President George W. Bush had made a centerpiece of his second term - the spread of democracy.

Mr. Obama said he has a commitment to governments "that reflect the will of the people." And yet, he said, "No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other."

At times, there was an echo of Mr. Obama's campaign mantra of change in his remarks, and he said many are afraid it cannot occur.

"There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward," he said.

After the speech, CBS News chief Washington correspondent said it was both remarkable and controversial.

"This was a remarkable speech," Schieffer said on The Early Show. "The most remarkable thing to me was just simply that he made it. That he would go to Cairo and that he would speak with the candor he did."

"It's also going to be controversial," Schieffer predicted, noting the president's call for "these [Israeli] settlements to stop" and that he thinks the lesson learned in Iraq was sometimes diplomacy trumps force. (Watch more of Schieffer's analysis here.)

Reza Aslan, a CBS News analyst on the Middle East, said the president's approach to issues like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fight against Al Qaeda and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was very frank. He also said that his remarks about women's rights could spark new debate.

The crowd's reaction to Mr. Obama's words about women's rights was mixed, Aslan said, and is likely to keep people talking, "which is precisely what Obama wanted." (More of Aslan's analysis here.)

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who served under George W. Bush, told CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller that he doubts about how realistic the rhetoric was.

Fleischer bluntly told Knoller, "bottom line -- the speech was balanced and that was what was wrong with it. American policy should not be balanced. It should side with those who fight terror." (Read more here.)