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Obama Urges "New Beginning" With Muslims

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.)


Before the speech, Mr. Obama met privately with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on a range of topics. Chief among them: Iran's suspected efforts to build a nuclear bomb and the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

In brief remarks, Mr. Obama said they spoke about "how we could move forward in a constructive way to bring about peace and prosperity to all people in the region." He said he emphasized that "America is committed to working in partnership with countries of the region so that all people can meet their aspirations."

Mubarak added: "We opened all topics with no reservations."

After spending the night at Saudi King Abdullah's horse farm in the desert outside Riyadh, Mr. Obama arrived at Egypt's imposing, ornate Qubba Palace on a lush property in the middle of Cairo with nearly two dozen horses leading his motorcade down the wide, palm-lined palace drive.

Mr. Obama's brief stay in the city also included a visit to the Sultan Hassan mosque, a 600-year-old center of Islamic worship and study, and a tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza on the capital's outskirts. Aides said the schedule also would afford Mr. Obama time to talk to Egyptian journalists and young people.

By the time Mr. Obama had arrived, some of Cairo's main thoroughfares, normally packed with cars in the morning rush, were near empty. Many residents chose to stay home rather than try to navigate the sprawling city of 18 million with the heavy traffic restrictions.

The independent newspaper Al-Dustour ran a front-page banner headline that read: "Today Obama visits Egypt after evacuating it of Egyptians." Another paper's headline said: "Cairo closed."

Some major streets around areas Mr. Obama was visiting were closed to traffic and lined with police in white uniforms and central security forces. Sidewalks and bridges around the airport road and the presidential palace were freshly painted and cleaned. Near the Sultan Hassan mosque, Egyptian authorities moved an entire bus station to keep crowds far away. Traffic police spread flyers to let drivers know which roads were closed.

Even though he's been promising this speech since the election campaign, in recent days Mr. Obama has sought to downplay it.

"One speech is not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East," he told a French interviewer. "Expectations should be somewhat modest."

Yet there was little doubt Muslims were listening closely. From the souk stalls of Baghdad to the Internet cafes in Jakarta, Indonesia, where Mr. Obama spent part of his youth, Muslims sought to parse the words of the first American president, whose father was one of their own.

And lest any miss Mr. Obama's outreach, the tech-savvy White House planned a communications onslaught: a live Webcast of the speech on the White House site; remarks translated into 13 languages; a special State Department site where users could sign up to get - and answer - speech highlights; and plans to push excerpts out to social networking giants MySpace, Twitter and Facebook. (Read more about the effort here.)

Though the speech was co-sponsored by al-Azhar University, which has taught science and Quranic scripture here for nearly a millennium, the actual venue was the more modern and secular Cairo University.

Red draperies formed a backdrop for the speech, blocking view of a portrait of Mubarak, an aging autocrat who's ruled Egypt since 1981.

"Egypt's democrats cannot help being concerned," wrote Dina Guirguis, executive director of Voices for a Democratic Egypt. (Read more about human rights in Egpyt and Saudi Arabia here.)

The university's alumni are among the Arab world's most famous - and notorious. They include the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfuz. Saddam Hussein studied law in the '60s but did not graduate. And al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri earned a medical degree.

Obama's Trip To The Middle East And Europe:

(CBS)

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