Obama and North Korea - Not too Much to Ask

For centuries Cairo University in Egypt has been the home to progressive thinkers, provocative activists, and dynamic policy-makers that have had a profound impact on the course of Human history from the days of Cleopatra to Anwar Sadat to President Obama's historic speech there today. In it, he focused on the evolution of the West's relationship with the Islamic world, and his fundamental declaration that our collective fates are inextricably tangled together.

In his speech, President Obama used the word peace - what Islam means in Arabic - 29 times. Much to the chagrin no doubt of Limbaugh and Osama alike (how's that for irony?), the President laid out his own connection to Islam, from his father's heritage to living in Indonesia, and stated eloquently both the contributions Muslims have made historically, as well as the many made by Muslim citizens of the US. By engaging people with dignity, respect, candor and a basic understanding that our fates are fundamentally intertwined and linked, he made yesterday's "us vs. them" discussion largely irrelevant. Osama-like rhetoric voiced just the day before in the whimpering cleric's latest tired dispatch from wherever he is held up has never seemed so archaic and primitive.

Our hope is that Obama's message of reconciliation, peace, and collective prosperity is a planetary one, the ethos of which transcends not only the relationship of the US with the Islamic world, but also encompasses every nation on Earth and the next stage of evolution between all of them.

Ironically, at the same exact time as Obama's historic speech, two American journalists - our friends Laura Ling and Euna Lee - were being tried in a North Korean court room, charged with "hostile acts" that could land them in the North's infamous labor camps for up to 10 torturous years.

Because of Obama, we now live in an era of unprecedented optimism, one where we hope it is not unreasonable for us to expect that he will take his same strategy of strength, integrity, and candid engagement to the likes of North Korea's leadership, both in the short term to secure the release of Laura and Euna back to their families, but also over the long term to facilitate the nuclear disarmament of North Korea, as he has pledged to push all nations - including the US - to do over the next decade.

President Obama's greatest achievement (and possibly his curse) over his short presence in the White House is his tremendous raising of expectations and elegant portrait of leadership for the 21st Century. It's not good enough just to remedy the chronic relationship between Americans and Arabs.

Our expectation now is that President Obama will take his same transcendent message of conflict resolution to all corners of the globe. Bring North Korea's long isolated leadership to the negotiating table and reverse the mounting tensions between them and us which threatens to become just as toxic and virulent as what it has become with the Arab world.

Sure - it's a lot to ask, but - after all - we're just following his example.

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What You Can Do For Laura Ling and Euna Lee

What the Captured American Journalists in North Korea Could Mean for Diplomacy

You can help Roxanne Saberi, Euna Lee, and Laura Ling

Image of President Obama in Cairo by The Official White House Photostream

Gotham and Mallika Chopra regularly blog at www.intent.com