Obama's Middle East Trip a Balancing Act
By Michael D. Shear
President Obama's visit to the Middle East, which begins today, will test the administration's relationship with Israel's new leadership and the president's promise to reach out to the Arab world as the region struggles to find peace.
The president departs for his third major overseas trip this evening, heading to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for a private meeting with King Abdullah. That visit, a last-minute add-on, will be a prelude to what the White House is billing as a major speech in Cairo on Thursday.
The Cairo speech -- a belated attempt to make good on a campaign promise to speak from a Muslim capital during the first 100 days of his presidency -- is much anticipated in the Arab world, where many expect the president to unveil a new Arab-Israeli peace plan.
White House officials say that will not happen in the speech, which they characterize as a continuation of early efforts to strike a different tone in conversations with the Muslim world. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has specifically rejected the notion of
major proposals in the speech.
That gulf in expectations could set the stage for a difficult trip that is already proving to be a delicate balancing act for the new commander in chief.
In interviews before his departure, Obama made clear that he intends to press Benjamin Netanyahu, the new Israeli prime minister, to stop the development of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, something the new Israeli leader has explicitly rejected.
But supporters of Israel have urged the president not to tilt too far against America's staunchest ally in the region. That pressure will make the tone of his outreach to the Muslim world in Cairo even more sensitive.
After spending just 12 hours in Cairo, Obama will head to Germany, where he will visit the former Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp and pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, and then visit the Landstuhl medical facility, where American troops abroad are treated.
As a presidential candidate, Obama canceled a visit to Landstuhl during his campaign swing through Europe in July of 2008. The campaign said it feared such a visit would be seen as too much of a campaign stop, but Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) attacked him for failing to make the visit to the injured American troops.
From Germany, Obama will head to France to take part in the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landing at Normandy. He will give a speech at the American cemetery in Coleville and will hold meetings with the French president.
Posted at 12:26 PM ET on Jun 2, 2009
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