U.S. future ‘bound to Middle East’

The future of the United States is bound to the Middle East, and Washington will use a “historic opportunity” provided by popular uprisings in the region to promote democracy in Middle Eastern countries, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday.

“It will be the policy of the US to promote reform, and to support transitions to democracy,” Obama said in his 45-minure speech at the U.S. Department of State.

“We face a historic opportunity. We have a chance to show that America values the dignity of a street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator,” the U.S. President said, referring to the cause of the first major uprising in the region, a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire to protest police confiscation of his produce.

The United States “opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region” and supports “a set of universal rights,” which include “free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders,” Obama said.

On Libya, Obama said that time was “working against” Muammar Gaddafi, who no longer controlled the country, and that “decades of provocation will come to an end” when he “inevitably leaves or is forced from power.”

The U.S. president also elevated his rhetoric on Syria, where a violent crackdown on protesters by government forces has claimed hundreds of lives. “The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy,” Obama said, adding that the country’s President Bashar al-Assad faced a choice: he should either “lead that transition” or “get out of the way.”

Obama urged the Syrian government to stop shooting demonstrators, allow peaceful protests, release political prisoners and “start a serious dialogue” with the opposition.

In his speech, the U.S. President also addressed the Israeli-Palestinian settlement, urging the sides to resume negotiations on the core issues of the conflict. “The basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel,” he said.

The negotiations, Obama said, “should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.”

A Palestinian state should be created within its 1967 borders, with “mutually agreed swaps” of land, Obama said. “The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”

Obama also reiterated U.S. “unshakable” support for Israel’s security and said that “every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.”

He endorsed a gradual handover of security responsibilities by Israel when conditions on the ground allow it. “The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state,” he said.


MOSCOW, May 20 (RIA Novosti)

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