Obama targets 'misapprehensions' ahead of Cairo visit
U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday he wants to open a new dialogue between the United States and the Muslim world ahead of his visit to the Middle East later this week.
Speaking to the BBC Tuesday on the eve of his trip to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Obama said he believes the visit is an opportunity to get both sides to listen to each other more.
"There are misapprehensions about the West on the part of the Muslim world, and obviously there are some big misapprehensions about the Muslim world when it comes to those of us in the West," he said.
Obama also said he believes his administration can get serious peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians back on track.
"Not only is it in the interest of the Palestinian people to have a state, it's in the interest of the Israeli people to stabilize the situation there," he said.
"And it's in the interest of the United States that we've got two states living side by side in peace and security."
Obama, who is expected to unveil his administration's concrete peace proposals in Cairo, also downplayed this week's rejection by Israel of his calls to freeze Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.
"It's still early in the conversation," he said. "Diplomacy is always a matter of a long, hard slog. It's never a matter of quick results."
He added that he has not seen "potential gestures" from the Arab states and the Palestinians that might deal with some of Israel's concerns.
Since taking office in late March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far refused to endorse a two-state solution and has said established settlements must be allowed to expand for natural growth of settler families.
Netanyahu has vowed to crack down on "outposts," or settlements built without the authorization of the Israeli government.
On Tuesday afternoon, Obama briefly dropped in on a meeting at the White House between his national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones, and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak to press the Israeli minister on curbing settlements.
Barak was Israel's prime minister during the failed 2000 Camp David peace talks under the administration of Bill Clinton.
'Tough, direct' diplomacy with Iran
On Iran, Obama said he did not need convincing from Netanyahu during his visit to Washington last month about confronting Iran over its nuclear program, which the Israeli prime minister views as a threat "above everything."
Iran has insisted its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. But the U.S. and other Western governments accuse Tehran of seeking atomic weapons.
"What I have said is that it is in the world's interests for Iran to set aside its ambitions for a nuclear weapons, but that the best way to accomplish that is through tough, direct diplomacy," the president said.
"Although I don't want to put arbitrary timetables on that process, we do want to make sure that by the end of this year we've actually seen a serious process move forward."
Obama suggested that Iran may have some right to nuclear energy — provided it proves by the end of the year that its aspirations are peaceful.
He said he is not apologizing for policies and decisions made during the eight years of the Bush administration, but he also doesn't intend to "lecture" Middle Eastern countries over issues such as human rights.
Instead, Obama said, the U.S. would encourage what he called "universal principles" that the nations could "embrace and affirm as part of their national identity."
"The danger, I think, is when the United States, or any country, thinks that we can simply impose these values on another country with a different history and a different culture," he said.