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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid