January 18, 2009
BARACK OBAMA is planning to reach out to the Islamic world, seeking a rapprochement with Muslim opinion alienated by the Bush administration.
He believes a personal initiative will dramatise his wish to reassure Muslims, and intends to give a speech in an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office as a sign of his engagement.
He has not said where. Egypt and Pakistan are obvious possibilities, but there has been speculation that he could choose Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where he spent part of his childhood.
Obama will be sworn in as president with his full Muslim-sounding name of Barack Hussein Obama, in keeping with White House tradition.
<!– –><!– –><!– –>“This Tuesday, we can reaffirm our own veneration and love for our country and our democracy,” he said yesterday in a radio address. “We can once again provide an example to the world.”
His inauguration presents a “unique opportunity to reboot America’s image in the world and also in the Muslim world in particular”, he said in an interview.
Obama intends to prohibit the use of harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, by the CIA, and to shut the secret “black site” prisons where terrorist suspects have been questioned. In future, interrogations will follow the rules set out in the US army field manual, which conform to the Geneva conventions. However, he is considering retaining a secret loophole, which would allow the CIA to use some methods outside the army rulebook.
One move that has been ruled out is the immediate closure of the Guantanamo detention centre for terrorist suspects, the focus of much Muslim anger.
Although Obama is committed to closing it – and the process has begun – he has hinted it could take as long as four years.
He said in a recent interview that he would consider it a failure if he had not closed the prison by the end of his first term in 2012. There had been speculation it could take a year because of problems in resettling potentially dangerous detainees, but not four years.
Obama was preparing a diplomatic offensive to tackle the problems of the Middle East as Israel last night declared a ceasefire in Gaza. He believes peace is impossible without diplomatic action across the region from Palestine to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We’ve got a regional set of problems,” Obama said. “They’re not going to be solved in isolation, and we’ve got to be active in all these areas in order for us to be successful in any of these areas.
“Very early on in the administration I will announce a team and an approach that allows us to get engaged in the Middle East on day one,” he said.