Obama wins Mubarak’s praise

WINNING WORDS: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the US president’s speech to the world’s Muslims in June had convinced Arabs that the US was an honest broker

AP , WASHINGTON

Thu, Aug 20, 2009 - Page 7

US President Barack Obama won lavish praise on Tuesday from his guest, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and spoke of an “extraordinary opportunity” for making peace in the Middle East.

Obama said he was encouraged by US efforts to restart talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Seated next to Mubarak, who was making his first visit to the US capital in five years, Obama thanked the Egyptian for joining him in trying to construct a deal that has eluded world leaders for more than six decades.

Returning the compliment, Mubarak asserted that Obama’s speech to the world’s Muslims, delivered in Cairo in June, had convinced Arabs that the US truly was an honest broker.

The 81-year-old Egyptian leader, who was estranged from the former Bush administration, said Obama had “removed all doubts about the United States and the Muslim world.”

“The Islamic world had thought that the US was against Islam, but his [Obama’s] great, fantastic address there has removed all those doubts,” Mubarak said.

Obama’s positive assessment of the peace effort was issued in response to a question about reports that Israel had stopped granting permission for new settlements in the West Bank, even though building in progress was continuing.

Obama has made resuming peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians a major foreign policy goal, hoping a breakthrough there would lead to wider agreements among the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.

To that end, Obama has demanded that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu freeze construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, land that the Palestinians want for a state. Netanyahu’s public refusal has opened a rare rift between the traditionally close allies.

Nevertheless, Obama said: “The Israeli government has taken discussions with us very seriously.”

He said he was “encouraged by some of the things I am seeing on the ground.”

“All parties have to take steps to restart serious negotiations,” including Palestinian efforts to end the incitement of violence against Israel, he said.

“If all sides are willing to move off of the rut that we’re in currently, then I think there is an extraordinary opportunity to make real progress, but we’re not there yet,” Obama said.

Mubarak said an end to Jewish settlement activity was central to a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks and a wider improvement of ties among the Israelis and all of their Arab neighbors.

To that end, Obama has demanded that the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu freeze construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Netanyahu’s public refusal has opened a rare rift between the close allies.

Nevertheless, Obama said: “The Israeli government has taken discussions with us very seriously.”

He said he was “encouraged by some of the things I am seeing on the ground.”

“All parties have to take steps to restart serious negotiations,” including Palestinian efforts to end the incitement of violence against Israel, he said.