News / USA

Obama: US Supports Political, Economic Reform in Mideast, N. Africa

President Barack Obama delivers a policy address on events in the Middle East at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2011
President Barack Obama delivers a policy address on events in the Middle East at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2011

In a major address on historic changes in the Middle East and North Africa, President Barack Obama says the United States stands firmly on the side of people protesting for democratic reform and against violence being used by some governments against protesters.

The president's speech, delivered at the State Department, was a combination of carrots and sticks, as he announced new aid to help democracy take root in Egypt and Tunisia, and strongly condemned Syria's president for his crackdown on peaceful protesters.

Saying the United States will speak out for core principles and universal rights, and opposes the use of violence and repression, Obama made clear where the U.S. stands on change in the region.

"We support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.  Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest," he said.  "Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal."

In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone and acquired by AP, May 3, 2011, Syrian men carry pieces of bread during a protest against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, in the coastal town of Banias
In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone and acquired by AP, May 3, 2011, Syrian men carry pieces of bread during a protest against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, in the coastal town of Banias

Syria

On Syria, where more than 850 people have been killed since the beginning of a popular uprising, Obama said the government of President Bashar al-Assad has "chosen the path of murder and mass arrests."

Obama said the Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy, and he said President Assad faces a crucial choice:

"President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests; it must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests; it must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara'a, and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition," said the president.


Iran

Obama used his remarks about Syria, which he said had sought assistance from Iran, to focus on what he called the Iranian government's suppression of its own people.  Saying the first peaceful protests were in the streets of Tehran, he said the U.S. continues to support the universal rights of Iran's people.

"We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran.  The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory.  And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations," said President Obama.

Anti-government protesters chant slogans during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, May 18, 2011
Anti-government protesters chant slogans during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, May 18, 2011

Upheaval in region

At the same time, Obama said to be credible the United States must acknowledge that its friends in the region, referring to Yemen and Bahrain, have not reacted to demands for change in a way consistent with core principles opposing violence and supporting universal rights.

On Libya, President Obama said "time is working against" Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, adding that when he "inevitably leaves or is forced from power"  a transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.

Obama: 4 Key Pillars in Aid to Mideast, N. Africa

  • 1. Economic management

    - Improve economic policy, promote transparency and prevent corruption
    - Technical assistance from U.S. government, universities and think tanks to NGOs, individuals and regional governments
    - Mobilize international financial institutions to support home-grown reforms
  • 2. Economic stability

    - Relieve Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt and use the money to create jobs and support entrepreneurs
    - Galvanize financial support for Egypt and Tunisia from international financial institutions and regional neighbors
  • 3. Economic modernization

    - Up to $2 billion for private sectors throughout the Middle East, N. Africa
    - Establish Egyptian-American and Tunisian-American Enterprise Funds to stimulate private sector investment
    - Support reorientation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support countries in the Middle East, N. Africa
  • 4. Trade integration, investment

    - Regional U.S. trade and investment partnership initiative
    - Work with European Union to boost trade within region, promote greater integration with U.S. and European markets and open door for regional trade agreemen

Aid to region

To help democracy take root in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, President Obama announced new initiatives to support economic reform, modernization and investment.

These include debt relief for Egypt, and a U.S. request to the World Bank and IMF for a plan to stabilize and modernize both economies.

Obama linked the wave of upheaval across the region with un-met economic needs. "After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets. The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family.  Too many in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, and perhaps the hope that their luck will change," he said.

Israel-Palestinian

Saying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has cast a shadow over the Middle East for decades, President Obama rejected suggestions that sweeping changes in the region make it impossible to break the current impasse.

"I disagree," he said.  "At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever."

The president said Israel and a future Palestinian state should be based on pre-1967 borders, with what he called “mutually agreed swaps so secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”  But he said Palestinians must  recognize that efforts to de-legitimize Israel will "end in failure" and that Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.

Obama called the U.S. commitment to Israel's security unshakeable. "But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace," he said.

Osama bin-Laden
Osama bin-Laden

Al-qaida, Osama bin-Laden

The president said historic changes in the Middle East and North Africa stand in sharp contrast to the violent ideology of al-Qaida and Osama bin-Laden, who was killed in a U.S raid in Pakistan.

Saying Bin Laden was "no martyr" but a mass murderer who offered a "message of hate" the president said the people of the Middle East and North Africa had already been rejecting the al-Qaida agenda.

"Even before his death, al-Qaida was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life. By the time we found bin Laden, al-Qaida's agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had takent their future into their own hands," said Obama.

On Friday, President Obama will be able to gauge Israeli reaction face to face when he sits down with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House for talks on how to revive Mideast peace efforts.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid