Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First Thoughts: Sorry I called it First Read yesterday... that is another service I subscribe to for news...


*** Obama In The Middle East: President Obama has already touched down in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he attended a welcoming ceremony with Saudi King Abdullah, and the two hold a bilateral session at 9:20 am ET. (Take note of the king's handshake with a few women in the U.S. delegation.) ??????????
Per NBC's Scott Foster, Riyadh was a last-minute addition to the trip, which White House officials say will give the president the chance to meet face to face with a strategic partner in the region. Likely on the agenda: energy, Middle East Peace, Iran, and the recent fighting between the Taliban and security forces in Pakistan. On the face of it, the president's first trek to the Middle East can't be anything but successful, right? Maybe. While this trip is billed as a conversation-starter of sorts, there's the question of whether the administration should ask more our Arab allies than talking. Talk is nothing new when it comes to key issues in the Middle East, and the Obama White House knows this -- which is why they need to see things jump started. While the president won't say this on the record, there are indications that the administration would like to see real progress made in the next two years on both the Israeli-Palestinian front, as well as with Iran. The longer it takes, the more likely any deals will get derailed. As confident as the president is with his ability to get warring factions to start talking, he did get a quick lesson in Middle East diplomacy when the Saudis reminded the White House that Obama can't address the Muslim world by just visiting Cairo; he needed to pay the respect the Saudis believe they deserve as the protector of Islam's holiest sights.

*** Today's Question: Will the Saudi side acknowledge they are more concerned about Iran's ambitions than Israel's? According to the president in an interview with the New York Times' Tom Friedman, that is the case with some key Arab allies and while he didn't name Saudi Arabia, it was certainly implied.

*** The Speech: Of course, the big Middle East event will take place tomorrow, when Obama delivers his speech in Cairo, Egypt about the U.S. and its relations with the Muslim world. During the early days of the presidential campaign, in August 2007, Obama promised he would, if elected, give such speech in his first 100 days as president. He technically fulfilled his promise when he spoke in Turkey back in April, but the White House considers the one tomorrow to be THE speech. Here's what Obama said when he made his promise in 2007: "I will make clear that we are not at war with Islam, that we will stand with those who are willing to stand up for their future, and that we need their effort to defeat the prophets of hate and violence. I will speak directly to that child who looks up at that helicopter, and my message will be clear: 'You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.'" Breaking news: Obama's speech comes as Osama bin Laden has said in a new recording that Obama and his administration "have planted seeds for hatred and revenge against America," Reuters reports.
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