Obama's 1st TV Interview Is With Arab Network
Updated 10:06 p.m.
By Glenn Kessler and Michael D. Shear
President Obama today conducted his first extended TV interview since moving into the Oval Office -- not with a U.S. network, but with one serving the Middle East.
Obama addressed with the Al-Arabiya network the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, reiterating U.S. policy toward Israel in calling it "a strong ally of the United States." The tone of his comments were a stark departure from those of former president George W. Bush, who often described the Middle East conflict in terms that drew criticism from Palestinians.
A fuller report on the Al-Arabiya interview is here.
Al-Arabiya is based in Dubai Media City, United Arab Emirates, and is a direct competitor to the better known al-Jazeera.
A U.S. network is not scheduled to conduct an Obama interview until Sunday, when NBC is due to broadcast live from the White House a sit-down as part of its Super Bowl pre-game show.
The interview took place on a day when Obama sent former senator George Mitchell, his new Middle East envoy, to the region for an exploratory trip.
Mitchell, who will be in the Middle East and Europe until Feb. 3, will be in a "listening mode," according to spokesman Robert Wood. Mitchell will travel to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France and England. He also hopes to go to Istanbul, the site of talks between Israel and Syria.
"The Administration will actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its neighbors," Wood said. Mitchell "will work to consolidate the ceasefire in Gaza, establish an effective and credible antismuggling and interdiction regime to prevent the rearming of Hamas, facilitate the reopening of border crossings, and develop an effective response to the immediate humanitarian needs of the Palestinians in Gaza -- and eventual reconstruction -- and reinvigorate the peace process."
Mitchell will be accompanied by a senior State Department official, deputy assistant secretary of state David Hale, and representatives of the Defense Department and the White House national security council. In Israel and the West Bank, he will be joined by Acting Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Sam Witten, and USAID Special Assistant to the Administrator George Laudato.
Wood said Mitchell will not have contact with Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, but he did not rule out the possibility that Mitchell would also visit to Syria or travel to the Gaza Strip.
Mitchell's quick start -- just four days after he was named -- appears designed to showcase the administration's determination that it will engage more vigorously on Middle East peace than the Bush administration. "The cause of peace in the Middle East is important to the United States and our national interests. It's important to me personally," Obama told reporters while meeting with Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House before Mitchell's departure.
Obama told reporters: "The charge that Senator Mitchell has is to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said such progress should not consist of "photo-ops" but should be "concretely felt by people on the ground."
"It is not something that we're going to be able to do overnight," he said. "But I'm absolutely confident that if the United States is engaged in a consistent way and in an early fashion, that we can make genuine progress."
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