Obama settled on mentioning the 1967 boundaries, but not the status of Jerusalem or Palestinian refugees, because it was the final status issue “on which there was the broadest consensus,” the official said.
The 45-minute speech was Obama’s first attempt to define the U.S. interest in the political changes taking place across the Middle East and North Africa, driven by a series of anti-government upheavals unfolding differently in countries from Libya through the Persian Gulf states.
He said, “It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and to support transitions to democracy.”
Obama used plain prose throughout his address, drawing at times on specific stories from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the ongoing protests in Syria to dramatize the policy he outlined. The State Department streamed simultaneous translations of the address in Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew, as it did for his speech to the Islamic world in Cairo in June 2009.
In that address, Obama asked for a “new beginning” with Muslims, at home and abroad, endorsing democracy as the most stable form of government while pledging not to impose one system on another nation.
Directed primarily at the Arab Middle East, the reference was to Bush’s “freedom agenda,” which in the case of Iraq sought to bring democracy to Arab society by means of a U.S.-led invasion. Administration officials said the scheduled U.S. departure from Iraq at the end of the year opens the door for a new relationship with the region — a point Obama emphasized in his address.
Many of the same advisers involved in the first speech had a say in this address, including Vice President Biden and Obama’s senior national security staff, as well as the pragmatic voices of national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon and his chief deputy, Denis McDonough, and Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.
But since the Cairo speech, the anti-government uprisings, known collectively as the Arab Spring, have recast the region's politics and energized the mostly young, Muslim populations now pushing against the political and economic barriers they have confronted for years.
The challenge of Thursday’s speech, directed at both an audience of U.S. diplomats, European allies and the 400 million people of North Africa and the Middle East, was to balance the long-standing U.S. interest of stability in the oil-rich region with Obama’s pledge to support reform movements in a part of the world where some of the most powerful political forces are rooted in Islamist politics at odds with U.S. policy.
“After decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be,” Obama said. “As we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility.”