U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed Washington's strong backing for a Palestinian state, using his long-anticipated Cairo address to the Muslim world highlight his administration's and his own personal commitment to follow through on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
While reaffirming Washington's "unbreakable bond" with Israel, Obama said that there can be no denying of the right of Palestine to exist, and that he would "personally pursue" the realization of a Palestinian state "with all the patience that the task requires."
"Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's," Obama said.
The president also issued a blunt repudiation of Israel's settlement enterprise in the West Bank, an issue that has strained Washington's ties with Jerusalem.
"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," Obama said. "This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."
"The obligations that the parties have agreed to under the Road Map are clear," Obama said, referring to the multi-stage peace plan agreed to by Israel and the Palestinians during the Bush presidency. "For peace to come, it is time for them - and all of us - to live up to our responsibilities."
"If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth," Obama said. "The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."
"That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest," the president said.
In addressing the Iranian nuclear program, Obama acknowledged longstanding Muslim accusations of Washington's double standard in objecting to Tehran's drive for nuclear weapons while tolerating Israel's alleged possession of atomic bombs.
The president reiterated his desire to see a world free of nuclear weapons.
"I understand those who protest that some countries have [nuclear] weapons that others do not," Obama said. "No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons."
Obama conceded that Iran has rights to nuclear energy "if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
Obama said his government will close the gap between public pronouncements and difficult truths that are often acknowledged behind closed doors in the halls of power throughout the Middle East.
"America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs," Obama said.
Obama urged Muslims around the world to acknowledge Jewish suffering and to repudiate Holocaust denial. The Arab and Muslim world ought to reconcile with the existence of Israel, the president said.
"Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve," Obama said.
The president also noted the plight of the Palestinians, who "have suffered in pursuit of a homeland" and who "endure daily humiliations ... that come with occupation."
"Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead," Obama said. "So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."
The president urged the Palestinians to draw upon the example of African slaves in the United States, arguing that a "peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding" had led to their gaining civil rights.
"Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed," Obama said. "For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights."
Obama said the Palestinians "must focus on what they can build." He urged Hamas to accept the Quartet's preconditions for international recognition - recognition of past signed agreements with Israel, recognition of Israel's right to exist, and a renunciation of violence.
"I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect," Obama said.
Obama offered the Arabic greeting of assalaamu alaykum, or "peace be unto you", in the early part of his speech. He also quoted a passage from the Koran and cited his father's Muslim background in a bid to highlight his sensitivity to Islamic grievances against the West.
"America is not and never will be at war with Islam," Obama said. "We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security."
"The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of co-existence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars," Obama said. "Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims."
"Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President," Obama said. "But my personal story is not so unique."
Obama is delivering his long-anticipated speech seeking to turn a new page in Washington's relations with the Arab and Muslim world.
Obama arrived in Egypt hours before giving long-promised speech in Cairo, the ancient seat of Islamic learning and culture.
The U.S. president is hoping to usher in a new era in the United States' relationship with the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Aides say Obama will blend hopeful words about mutual understanding with blunt talk about the need for Muslims to embrace democracy, women's rights and economic opportunity.
Obama met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key American ally, at his palace in the capital.
"We discussed how to move forward in a constructive way to bring peace and prosperity to people in the region," Obama told reporters after talks with Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981 and kept a tight lid on opposition.
"I emphasized to him that the U.S. is committed to working in partnership with countries in the region so all people can meet their aspirations," he said before heading to a mosque in a quarter of Cairo that is full of Islamic architectural gems.
The mosque is a 600-year-old center of Islamic worship and study called the Sultan Hassan mosque. Obama will then tour the Great Pyramids of Giza on the capital's outskirts.
Obama arrived in Egypt from Saudi Arabia, where he stayed overnight at King Abdullah's horse farm in the desert outside Riyadh.
In his Cairo address Thursday, Obama called on Israel and the Arab states to change their approach to the Middle East peace process.
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