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Obama On Al-Arabiya: First Formal Interview As President With Arab TV Network (VIDEO)

First Posted: 02/27/09 05:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:00 PM ET

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Barack Obama struck a note of foreign policy confidence Monday night, telling an Arabic news station that al Qaida leaders and Osama bin Laden "seem nervous" now that they don't have George W. Bush as a recruiting tool.

In his first formal interview since taking office, the president spoke with the Dubai-based station Al Arabiya on topics pertinent to the Arab and Muslim worlds. Much of the interview was spent defining the new approach that the United States would implement in that region: respectfulness over divisiveness, listening over dictating, engagement over militarism. But the president drew the line when it came to terrorist organizations.

"Their ideas are bankrupt," he told host Hisham Melhem, when asked to respond to recent audio clips from al Qaida leadership calling him various epithets. "There's no actions that they've taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them."

Pressed later in the interview to comment on Bush's use of the term 'War On Terror,' and the implications that the phrase held, Obama once again distanced himself from his White House predecessor.

WATCH THE INTERVIEW:

"I think that you're making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters," he said, according to a transcript provided by the White House. "We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down. But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship."

If Obama's discussion on terrorism were marked by tones of firmness, his positions on other Middle East issues seemed defined by fresh thinking and inclusiveness. At one point he did something that would have been anathema on the campaign trail: he touted his hereditary and biographical links to the Muslim world.

"I have Muslim members of my family," said the president. "I have lived in Muslim countries."

Later on, Obama pledged to engage Iran as one of several means of preventing that country from developing a nuclear weapon. He promised to follow through on his campaign commitment "to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital," and said that George Mitchell, his recently appointed Middle East envoy, was going to the region to "listen" because "all too often the United States starts by dictating."

As for the Israel-Palestine conflict, Obama restated the United State's unique relationship with the Jewish state but refused to say that such a relationship limited the prospect for peace in the region.

"Israel is a strong ally of the United States," said Obama. "They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel's security is paramount. But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side."

The interview was the first one Obama has granted since being elected President. And while Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both have appeared on the network (which is Saudi financed), the president's media team seemed to be driving home a message in their choice of venue. The interview itself is as much a signal to the Muslim world as the words he said.

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.

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EARLIER:

Barack Obama will do his first formal interview as president with an Arabic cable TV network, ABC News reports. The interview is set to air at 11pm EST, it reports.

As special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell heads off to the region to begin work on negotiating a cease fire between Israel and the Palestinians, President Obama has sat for his first formal TV interview with the Arabic cable TV network Al-Arabiya, ABC News has learned.

Al Arabiya is a 24-hour Arabic news channel based in Dubai that broadcasts across five continents, according to its website.

With a global network of correspondents and bureaus in 40 major cities around the world, Al Arabiya has become a leading source of Arabic-language news throughout the world.

...

Al Arabiya is part of MBC Group, the largest news and entertainment broadcaster in the Middle East, reaching an estimated 130 million Arabic-speaking people around the world.

A 2003 BBC News profile of the network says it was one of the top-rated pan-Arab stations but "angered the US" for its coverage of the violence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Donald Rumsfeld called the network openly hostile to US interests, it reports.

In August [2003], US officials strongly criticised al-Arabiya for broadcasting pictures of masked men who threatened to kill members of the US-appointed governing council.


US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker judged al-Arabiya's decision "to air the remarks of these masked terrorists to be irresponsible in the extreme".

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