Obama to deliver Middle East policy speech


WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama is planning a policy speech that would call for a rejection of Islamic militancy.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the White House is planning for such a speech within the next two weeks, just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to roll out proposals for reviving peace talks with the Palestinians in a meeting with Obama and in a speech to the U.S. Congress.

The Journal said the speech would follow up on his speech to the Muslim world, delivered in Cairo in June 2009. White House officials later said the speech would focus on "political change in the Middle East and North Africa" and was not intended as a follow-up address to the Muslim world.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said it was "a speech to a broader audience than just the Arab world." He said it would be in the "relatively near future."

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The United States and Israel share concerns that the pro-democracy movements now roiling the Arab world could be overtaken in some cases by Islamist forces.

According to the Journal, Obama wants to exploit the recent U.S. killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden to deliver a message that the United States embraces democracy but rejects militancy.

"It’s an interesting coincidence of timing," the newspaper quoted deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes as saying. "That he is killed at the same time that you have a model emerging in the region of change that is completely the opposite of bin Laden’s model."

Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo proposed a new era of engagement with Muslims.

Conservatives criticized the speech for not emphasizing democratization.

Obama in the speech said U.S. support for Israel was steadfast and rebuked Arab nations for allowing Holocaust denial to fester, but pro-Israel groups said he did not go far enough in emphasizing Jewish claims to Israel and complained that he did not visit Israel on the same trip.

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