June 3rd, 2009
11:39 AM ET
11 years ago

Obama confers with Saudi king ahead of major speech in Egypt

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) - President Barack Obama arrived Wednesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for the first day of a Middle East trip during which he
will make a long-awaited speech on foreign policy aimed at mending U.S.-Muslim relations.

Not long after arriving, the U.S. president and Saudi King Abdullah went to the king's farm for a welcome reception, to be followed by a meeting between the two leaders.

Obama leaves late in the day for Cairo, Egypt, where he is to address a mostly Muslim audience early Thursday afternoon (6 a.m. ET).

His plans to improve America's image among Muslims have been in the works since his first week in office.

"My job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect," Obama said in a January interview with Al-Arabiya television network. "I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim

When the White House announced the Mideast trip in early May, spokesman Robert Gibbs described Egypt as "a country that in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world."

Gibbs deflected several questions at his daily briefing about whether Egypt was a wise choice, given President Hosni Mubarak's resistance to making his government more democratic.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, who was informally talking to Egyptians in Cairo to gauge their sentiments, said although most of the people were eagerly awaiting the president's visit, some were concerned that Obama, by making Egypt the focus of his trip, could legitimize Mubarak's 28-year rule.

These Egyptians feared Obama might not discuss with Mubarak long-sought problems like the need for democracy and political reform.

People are looking for something palpable and concrete, Wedeman said. They would like the United States to be more engaged in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

"What they want is results, not just words," Wedeman said.

There were visible preparations for Obama's visit, he said. Many streets were repaved, and markets were selling T-shirts in his honor, with some reading: "Obama: New Tutankhamen of the World."

Obama chose Turkey, a more secular state, as the site of his first presidential speech to a Muslim majority nation, on April 6. He told the Turkish legislature in Ankara that the "United States is not and will never be at war with Islam."

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has attended many conferences where there are Muslim speakers, said there is a common theme among them: "When the Cold War ended, America needed an enemy to replace Communism, and chose Islam."

"How else, they ask, to explain the two Gulf wars, Afghanistan, Guantánamo and the plight of the Palestinians?

"To support their thesis, they cite the bellicose post-9/11 rhetoric of U.S. officials, the Western media's preoccupation with Muslim extremists and the plethora of pundits who have identified Islam, especially 'political Islam,' as the leading threat to civilization in the 21st century," she said in an op-ed Tuesday in The New York Times.

"To most Americans, the idea that our country is attacking Islam or that we view the Islamic faith as an enemy is absurd," Albright said. She pointed out that in the 1990s, America twice led NATO into conflicts on behalf of Muslim populations - first in Bosnia, then in Kosovo.

Not long before Obama departed on his trip, a CNN/Opinion Research

Corporation survey suggested that more than two in five Americans, or 46 percent, have an unfavorable opinion of Muslim countries. That is an increase of five points from 2002. Three in 10 Americans questioned said they had a neutral opinion.

On Tuesday, Gibbs told reporters: "I think what is important is that we demonstrate that the United States wants to pursue a different relationship and ensure that Muslims around the world understand the message of the United States."

"We have more in common than we have disagreement about, and I think that's what he wants to ensure that the vast majority of the Muslim world hears."

Mamoun Fandy, a Mideast expert, agrees with Egyptians who say Muslims want more than talk; they want action.

They want to hear "that he is very serious about solving the Israeli-Arabian problem, that he is very serious about engaging the Muslim world on the basis of recognizing the equality," Fandy said.

After Egypt, Obama will visit the remains of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Dresden, Germany, on June 5. He is then scheduled to take part in ceremonies commemorating the 65th anniversary of the World War II Allied landings in Normandy, France.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. chris

    watched the president arrive in saudi live this morning. nice reception. lots of people. i noticed though...not a very popular place for the ladies. i saw 2. and they were both Americans!

    June 3, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  2. carlo

    You know, no matter how many times you wing nuts post on here, you are still only 20% of the population, which won't win you anything. Keep this up, and that number will go lower. The old wing nuts have to go some time.

    June 3, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  3. Pete Early

    Obama is bad news for the entire world, not just the US.

    June 3, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  4. Citizen from NY

    Hillary STILL would have been a BETTER president.

    June 3, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  5. history repeats

    Obama Victim

    do you still think that by calling obama "barack hussein obama" you are offending him in any way? hahha i love the comments made by people like you. america is NOT a christian nation. george washington even said that. thomas jefferson said it as well. religion is losing its grip on this country thankfully. look at this article. we are talking about how muslims view america. how other people with superstitions view people over here with superstitions. in the 20th century we are still trapped by our own minds!

    June 3, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  6. history repeats

    Proud DHS radical

    the price of gas when bush was prez was 5 dollars a gallon!!! my god you people just dont give up on your idea that we didnty like bush only because he was a republican! he was a moron and he almost destroyed this country! THATS why we didnt like him! grow up

    June 3, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  7. obambi

    Did the CBS guy catch his bow?

    June 3, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  8. obambi

    DBob18–from my calculations of this blog–80% of haters are on the liberal side–very few people on the right–the left makes accusations even when the blog id 100% liberal–or–someone moderates all the righties!?

    June 3, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  9. The Unshrub

    Obama Victim

    WE ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN NATION. Our founding fathers made it absolutely clear. Maybe if you and others would read a little bit about when they discussed the bill of rights and the constitution you would learn a few things. Instead you just mouth off about Obama without a clue of the truth.

    June 3, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  10. ss

    I hope our President have a wonderful trip and is able to accomplish his goals also return home safely.

    June 3, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  11. history repeats


    what r u talking about? u waiting for another a few months after 9/11 and you think we prevented it? are you kidding? it was a coordinated hijacking not a military strike! it was done by 19 saudi arabians and we attacked afghanistan and iraq. god is definetely not on your side. there has been two terroist attacks in the last 20 yrs thats an average of 1 every 10 yrs you think there was gonna be another one after a few months? you must not read much at all. look at what happens when you fight terrorism with military action it usually doesnt work. you represent the republican base. uninformed, uneducated and unbelievable!!!

    June 3, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  12. Jon in CA

    PaulMoATX writes,

    "See, that's where you are wrong my friend, and that is the problem with many partisan Americans who blindly followed that kind of cowboy recklessness ways of the previous administration."



    So when Obama gives a speech to the UN – which dictators must he confere before delivering the speech so he isn't using "cowboy recklessness"??

    You white-flag liberals think seeking the approval of others makes us stronger.

    THINK FOR A MINUTE.... exactly how effective is the UN?

    June 3, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  13. debkay

    @ Phil

    First of all SAUDI Arabia, not SAUDIA Arabia.
    Secondly, Saudi Arabia actually is considered to be one of the very few allies that we have in the Middle East . . . right or wrong.
    Thirdly, in some cultures a bow is considered to be the same as a handshake.

    Man you people are so ignorant!

    June 3, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  14. new_dem

    Hey "Obama Victim",
    How many courses did you have to complete to finally become such a complete and utter MORON!!

    June 3, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  15. Robin

    Moderate Democrat June 3rd, 2009 12:47 pm ET

    Muslims are terrorists? But what is that guy that shot the doctor yesterday? Yea, that's right, a TERRORIST, Not Muslim. One of those right wing gutter trash freaks!

    There goes the old "Muslims are terrorists' theory. Every time the GOP tries to make a point, one of their neo-con extremist freaks of nature goes and kills someone.

    Muslims are not the terrorists, nor the biggest threat to americans. The GOP, aka "The American Taliban" are!

    What about the 23 year old Army Private who was shot outside the recruitement office in Little Rock on Monday? Who shot him? A Muslim.

    Is that saying all Muslims are bad, of course not. But don't martry an abortion doctor and ignore a 23 year old man's cold blood murder.

    June 3, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  16. Chris B.from MD

    Let us support our President as he seeks to break down stereotypes.
    He is not always right , has made mistakes and will make more. But at least give the man credit for working hard, for promoting stron family and marital values, and for handling issues head on with intelligence, clarity and respect.
    And he is teaching us a very important lesson in CIVILITY. Let us respect other human beings regardless of race, religion, socio-economic backrgound. Showing respect to a different culture is a sign of maturity. One does not need to be a buhdist to be frineds or respect a buhdust. I am a devoted Evangelical Christian and I have shared enriching life expreiences with friends that are Muslims, Buhdist, Catholics, Jews, white, black, Asian, Latin American etc.... Let us judge people on the "content of their character", not their race or religion. Terrorists come in all form or shapes. And not all of them are Arabs or Muslim, or was Dr TIller's murderer an Arab?


    June 3, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  17. ray ray

    Lynda / Minnesota quips,

    "Perhaps you were too busy to keep up with President Obama during his presidental campaigning?"

    Obama to Unions: END NAFTA
    Obama to Canada: oh that was just campaign rhetoric

    Obama to America: I can no more disown Rev Wright than I can disown the black community.
    Obama (one month later): This is not the man I knew...

    Obama to America: I will not appoint lobbyists to my administration!
    After Election: Welcome William Lynn! (defense contractor lobbyist)

    And on and on and on...

    You're right Lynda. If I had blindly swallowed everything Obama was shoveling during the campaign like you good liberals – I wouldn't have had to "keep up" with Obama's ever-changing positions and promises.

    June 3, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  18. Robin

    steve June 3rd, 2009 12:57 pm ET

    A comment by Pukuna: "He has yet to prove he is a born citizen"
    2 websites proving that McCain was not a natural born citizen
    U.S. District court of New Hampshire case number 1-2008-cv-00099
    which ruled he was a native born citizen of Panama and a naturalized citizen of the U.S. turned into around 4 million websites and cost McCain the election.

    McCain was born on a Navy base in Panama, which is considered US territory, so you don't have an arguement there.

    As far as Obama goes, no he was not born here, but lets face it, we have bigger fish to fry.

    June 3, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  19. Citizen from NY

    I do not believe ANY President of the United States of America (this means YOU, Obama) should ever have to seek the advice of any other country's leader. EVER.

    June 3, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  20. history repeats

    Cassandra Washington

    we were dancing in the streets when our bombs dropped in baghdad killing thousands of innocent civilians. im sure people in your household were happy about that! its easy to judge other people from the comfort of your living room. you talk about all the muslims with there bombs all over the world but you dont know anything about what your own country has done economically to these third world countries they thought would never come back to bite them. look at how the cia overthrew many DEMOCRATICALLY elected governments in favor of big business. how the UNITED STATES put dictators in power and even gave muslim radicals weapons to further their gains all over the world. take a look at what has actually happened in this world before you open your mouth and talk about things you dont know about!

    June 3, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  21. Peter E

    People keep forgetting the last eight years, with Bush holding hands with, even kissing that same tyrant. We've been kissing up to the Saudis for dercades, or haven't you heard about Reagan's dealings with them either? It's core American policy.
    If you want our government to stop kissing up to the Saudis, stop wasting oil with your gas-guzzlers, and maybe walk to the supermarket two hundred feet away instead of driving as if you have no legs.

    June 3, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  22. Angie in Pa

    I have to Just laugh and shake my head at the People like MATT FROM DETROIT, AND OBAMA VICTIM. I Laugh daily but then I shake my head and say how SAD Bush/Cheney BRAINWASHED Them fools, Just listen to them! I kinda of feel sorry for their unintelligence they spew and their hatred! Get Educated folks, Wake up from the Bush/Cheney lying night mare and for gods sake Quit with the Muslim Smearing of our President even if he was Muslim and hes Not SO WHAT!

    June 3, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  23. fishy fish

    Republicans are pure comedians!

    June 3, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  24. Steve (the real one)

    Adele June 3rd, 2009 12:26 pm ET
    To Phil and "bowing". I was raised in Japan, We bow all the time, it's a sign of respect. Educate yourself with other people's traditions.
    Sorry ! Saudi Arabia is not in Japan! You can't even compare the two. The traditions are not the same. I too have lived in Asia!

    June 3, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  25. Steve (the real one)

    M June 3rd, 2009 12:27 pm ET

    Man, you really need to tone down your hateful rhetoric…what would be the big deal if Barack was a Muslim?
    The big deal would be the denial! If he is Muslim, then don't you think the voters should have known prior to election day 08? Would voter rethink their votes, i believe most would but that is their right as an American voteor I am a Christian and not ashamed of it. The Ppresident also stated he is a Christian!

    June 3, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
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