Abdullah, Obama keen on Mideast security: US envoy

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By Faheem Al-Hamid
July 23, 2010,
Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and US President Barack Obama are determined to maintain security and stability in the region and in Islamic countries – and find just and comprehensive solutions to the issues facing the Muslim World, a top US official has said.

“Riyadh and Washington serve as a center for dialogue between the East and the West. In view of this role, they have begun making every effort to boost cohesion between the Islamic World and the US,” Rashad Hussain, President Obama’s special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said.

Hussain spoke exclusively to Saudi Gazette and Okaz during his visit to the main office of Okaz Organization for Press and Publication here recently.

“The Kingdom, in its capacity as the pioneer of Islamic work, and the US, in its capacity as an influential country in the world, can work together to defuse tension and work out strategies to solve crises in the Islamic World,” he said.

King Abdullah, Hussain said, is a seasoned political leader with a strategic vision. It makes him an ideal person to dedicate the Middle East and Islamic World to security and peace.

Interfaith dialogue

Hussain said the interfaith dialogue initiated by King Abdullah has contributed to dedicating the culture of dialogue and peaceful coexistence. It has also paved the way for understanding the “other culture” and deepened the relationship between the East and the West.

He stressed that Washington maintains good relations with the Islamic World, particularly with the Kingdom.

The official emphasized his country’s determination to strengthen the bonds of friendship with the Kingdom, because it has a significant role in leading the Arab World, and strengthen the pillars of peace and stability in the Middle East and throughout the world.

Arab-Israeli conflict

Hussain emphasized Obama’s determination to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, resolve other problems between the Islamic World and

the US, find solutions to the region’s crises and regain the trust of the world Muslims.

He said President Obama has a long-term strategy for strengthening dialogue and boosting cooperation with the Islamic World.

Hussain said lack of tangible progress and a breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli conflict, despite strenuous American efforts, does not mean the end of the road. He stressed that Obama understands the importance of finding a just and comprehensive solution to the crisis and noted that the president sent a special envoy, George Mitchell, to the region to revive peace efforts.

He said the American administration’s peace efforts remain intensive and hopes that indirect talks will progress to direct talks between Palestinians and the Israelis so that peace prevails in the region. Hussain stressed that Obama is committed to the two-state solution with Palestinian and Israeli states living side-by-side in peace.

Cairo speech

“President Obama’s vision cannot be achieved over a day or night,” Hussain said referring to the US leader’s attempt at arriving at an understanding with the Islamic World.

He said President Obama’s speech in Cairo is a road map to the nature of future relations with the Islamic World, especially relationships with Islamic countries and the Palestinian cause, which will be carried out in letter and spirit with an impartial view.

“We still have a long way to go, despite the fact we have taken the first step, and we will continue in this direction until the president’s vision for boosting the dialogue and relations with the Islamic World is materialized,” Hussain said.

He also underlined the great importance the American administration places on strengthening its relations with the OIC. “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to the OIC’s headquarters in Jeddah serves as a turning point in the relationship between the OIC and the Obama administration,” he said.

Hussain said he was making an effort to open channels of dialogue with Islamic countries not only in the realm of political matters, but also in matters relating to health, culture, education and technology; present a correct vision about Islam; and confront the so called “Islamophobia.”

He said President Obama was also giving due attention to reducing tensions with Islamic countries, strengthening the dialogue with the Islamic countries and narrowing the gap between the East and the West.

Role of Muslims

Hussain, who said a real, significant change in the American policy is the president’s conspicuous recognition of the role played by Muslims in the US and the world. The administration does not believe Islam is a religion of terrorism, he said. “It is impossible to look at what is being done by an extremist group as a reflection of the tolerant Islamic religion,” he added.

Hussain dismissed any contention that anti-Islam feelings are increasing in the US and stressed that Muslims in America are free to practice their religion. Muslim women in the US will not be prevented from wearing a veil, he said.

Hussain said one of the Obama administration’s key objectives is to establish strong relations with the Islamic World, which reflects that President Obama believes this partnership should be based on understanding, mutual interests and trust.

He acknowledged that a comprehensive change in understanding and opinions will take some time and said it takes a joint effort to improve relations between Islamic countries and the West.

He said the Obama administration has worked to address American misconceptions about Islam and added that misconceptions in the minds of some Muslims also need to be addressed. It will take efforts on both sides to improve mutual understanding, he added.

Hussain, who said there is an unprecedented opportunity to achieve broad contact with the Islamic World on the basis of the principles laid out in Cairo, hopes that relations with Islamic countries will be boosted in the areas of education, science and technology. “It is evident that we are not going to agree on all issues. Our task will be to strengthen and promote the aspects we agree on and also look at the areas where we differ, in order to develop the best policies,” he said.

Hussain was bitterly criticized in the US for critical comments about George Bush administration’s approach to terrorism. President Obama appointed Hussain to assure the Islamic World that the American administration was serious about its efforts to reduce anti-Islam views in the West.

In a recorded address to an international Islamic forum held last year in Doha, Qatar, President Obama said extremist Muslim groups have exploited tensions between the West and Muslims and stressed that Islam is not part of the problem. – Okaz/SG

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