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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More