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

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid