Last updated: April 6, 2009 10:33 pm

Obama pledge on Mideast solution

Barack Obama on Monday offered his clearest pledge since taking office to pursue a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, as he took his message of remaking US relations with the Muslim world to Turkey.

President Obama urged Israel and the Palestinians to “live up to the commitments they have made”, in what is likely to be seen as a rebuke to Israel’s new rightwing government, whose foreign minister last week distanced himself from a 2007 US-backed process to create a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian Authority last night welcomed Mr Obama’s statement, while Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, issued a brief statement saying: “Israel appreciates President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security and to the pursuit of peace.” He did not mention the two-state solution.

In an address to the Turkish parliament, the US president also carefully prodded his hosts to make progress on talks with neighbouring Armenia and restated the US’s support for Turkey to join the European Union.

His remarks came on the closing leg of an eight-day tour of Europe, in which he made Turkey the last stop, in part to deliver a symbolic statement about bridging the divide between east and west after the “mistrust” created by the presidency of George W. Bush.

“Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not at war with Islam,” he said. “I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to al-Qaeda. We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding, and seek common ground.”

Mr Obama has sought to reach out to Muslims by quickly appointing a Middle East envoy; giving an Arabic television station his first interview with a foreign broadcaster; and making clear that he wants engagement with Iran. He took his message on Monday to the heart of a Muslim capital and insisted that he saw engagement with the Muslim world as a dialogue based on mutual respect.

Reactions to the US president in the Muslim world have been both hopeful and cautious, with many people appreciating the new tone, but also waiting to see concrete changes in US policies.

While reaction in the Muslim world has been cautiously hopeful, many are also waiting to see concrete changes in US policy.

Abdelaziz al-Qassim, a Saudi analyst, said Mr Obama was creating a new mood in the region and was clearly “a man of initiative, of values”. But he said there were still questions about “what he will do”.

In the Arab world, the biggest question is how far the new president will go in putting pressure on Israel to pursue negotiations on a Palestinian state.

Mr Obama’s US president, who concludes his tour today in Istanbul with a “town hall” event, where he will take questions from ordinary Muslims, also sought Turkey’s help in pursuing a two-state solution and in brokering successful talks between Israel and Syria.

Although Mr Obama did not offer any radical new policies on the issue, his language was studiously even-handed.

“Let me be clear: Regarding negotiations On a Palestinian state, he said: “The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

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