Mideast Leaders Impressed, Waiting for Action on Obama Speech
Middle East leaders waited with great expectation to hear what President Obama would say in his address to the Muslim world on Thursday. Now they're eager to see him act on his words.
"Obama was charismatic and convinced the Arab world he is with us," said Essam El-Erian, head of Egypt's Islamist opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. "It's a good start, but we're waiting for action on the ground, like closing Guantanamo, withdrawal from Iraq and ending the war in Afghanistan."
Yet one of the main thrusts of Obama's speech was the need to first settle disputes in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Obama called for an end to Israeli settlement development in the West Bank.
"Now the ball is in the Israeli court," said Amr Mousa, Secretary-General of the Arab League, in an interview with FOX News. Moussa said it is time for Israel to advance peace efforts.
"If they want to play ball with us, with Europe, with America, with the whole world, they have to come up with something serious, not something that is just peanuts. They need to stop settlements."
The Israeli government, for its part, released a statement hours after the speech highlighting Obama's insistence that Arab states recognize Israel's right to exist.
"We share President Obama's hope that the American effort heralds the beginning of a new era that will bring about an end to the conflict and lead to Arab recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, living in peace and security in the Middle East," read the statement.
Middle East analysts are now looking to see if Obama's words or actions will make any difference in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Another closely watched speech delivered four years ago by an American leader in Cairo made waves in the Middle East and called for democracy in the region — but those good intentions may have backfired.
In June 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a landmark address at The American University in Cairo criticizing Egypt's authoritarian government and pressing for democracy in the Middle East. Seven months later, Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the State Department, rose to power in Gaza through democratic elections.
Despite Obama's outreach to the group during his speech, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza said they were not pleased and expected the president to seek penance for American foreign policy.
"We're disappointed that Obama didn't apologize for American policy in Palestine, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sudan," Hamas spokesman Fouzi Barhoum said in an interview with FOX News. "There should also be more pressure on Israel to accept Palestinian rights."
But the crowd's response to Obama was sometimes rapturous. The president quoted lines from the Koran three times, and elicited a shout of "I Love You, Obama" from one man in the crowd.
Missing from the speech was any call for Iran to stop its nuclear program. Obama said that "we have reached a decisive point" on the question of nuclear weapons, but defended the Islamic republic's right to pursue a civilian nuclear energy program.
But even before Obama delivered his address, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that speeches would not be enough to repair relations with the Muslim world.
"The nations in the region hate the United States from the bottom of their hearts because they have seen violence, military intervention and discrimination," Khamenei said.
Only actions will be able to change that hatred — not words and slogans, he said.