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Obama Seeks To Mend Ties With Muslim World


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In his speech at Cairo University today, President Obama called for a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim world. He asked Americans to set aside stereotypes about Islam and he asked Muslims to do the same in their view of the U.S.,. NPR's Don Gonyea was in the theater where the president spoke.

DON GONYEA: The White House said the president hoped his words today in Cairo would be seen and heard by Muslims across the globe. He began by establishing his own credentials as someone who knows more than a little about Islam. Mr. Obama noted his own Christian faith but said his father came from a Muslim family in Kenya.

President BARACK OBAMA: As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the Azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk.

GONYEA: And he spoke of what it means that someone of his background was standing here today.

Pres. OBAMA: Much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected president.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: It was first of many times this speech was interrupted by applause. The president spoke of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, each a Muslim nation. On Iraq, he said the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam Hussein in power. But he also said the war is an example of the need to use diplomacy more effectively to solve disputes. On Afghanistan, the president reminded his audience that the U.S. is there because it was attacked by Taliban-backed al-Qaida terrorists in 2001.

Pres. OBAMA: I'm aware that there's still some who would question, or even justify the offense of 9/11. But let us be clear. Al-Qaida killed nearly 3,000 people on that day.

GONYEA: He said that the U.S. is not at war with Islam but that it would quote "relentlessly confront" violent extremists. If there was a recurring theme in the speech, it was this: that with so much of the U.S. and Muslim relationship based on mutual distrust, all pay a price.

Pres. OBAMA: So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the co-operation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.

GONYEA: On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he spoke of centuries of prosecution of the Jewish people and of the Holocaust. He said the U.S. has unbreakable bonds with Israel. But he also offered a criticism of Israelis, that the U.S. does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlements in the West Bank. And he criticized the Palestinian militant group Hamas saying it is hurting the Palestinian cause by refusing to end violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.

Pres. OBAMA: We cannot impose peace but privately many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

GONYEA: Another area where the president had strong words was on the state of democracy in the Muslim world.

Pres. OBAMA: Because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power. Once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Critics of Egypt President Hosni Mubarak cheered that line. And the president argued forcefully for women in the Muslim world to be afforded full equality with men. The president said one speech won't fix problems that have been growing for years and years but that he is convinced the things that have long been said behind closed doors must now be said openly to one another.

Pres. OBAMA: There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another and to seek common ground. As the holy Quran tells be conscious of God and speak always the truth.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: President Obama today at Cairo University.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.