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This article was published 6/4/2009 (4192 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While the formulation of Obama's Middle Eastern policy is not yet complete, its broad designs are already clear: a more realistic -- and less ideological -- approach that would give preference to improved relations with the Muslim world; a serious dialogue with Iran and Syria; clearing the air that was polluted by the former Bush administration's strained relations with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia; and a genuine effort to place the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a broader regional context.
In his historic speech to the Turkish parliament Monday, Obama remained committed to the principle of "two states -- Israel and Palestine," living in peace and security, according to the Quartet's road map and the Annapolis process.
Obama needs Turkey's assistance to solve his problems in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Contrary to former president George W. Bush's policy, Obama supports Turkish efforts to mediate between Israel and Syria and to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan supports including Hamas in the peace negotiations with Israel.
It is still premature to assess the impact of Obama's visit to Turkey on the new American policy in the Middle East. American officials have privately assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that no final decisions will be made before Obama talks to most regional leaders. After Saudi King Abdullah met last week with Obama in London, both Netanyahu and Jordan's King Abdullah are expected to visit Washington next month. It is still unclear if Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak will be invited to visit Washington. Due to some subtle tension with former president George W. Bush, Mubarak didn't travel to the U.S. for the last five years.
Now, however, the situation is different. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia believe that both Israel and Iran took advantage of regional disputes to enhance their position in the region. The overwhelming Sunni Arab countries have not yet found the tools to curb Iranian interference in the region. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt see Iran as their top rival for regional influence.
Egypt, in particular, believes that through his involvement in Iraq, Bush practically handed Iraq to Iran on a silver platter. Hence, Egyptian diplomats believe that it is essential that Mubarak travel to Washington to emphasize the fears of the moderate Arab world, from the planned "detente" between the U.S. and both Syria and Iran.
Meanwhile, Egypt is still pushing both Hamas and Fatah to reconcile in an effort to form a new national Palestinian unity government. All concerned believe that a failure to establish a Palestinian unity government could derail important parts of Obama's future policies in the Middle East.
Sam Segev is the Free Press Middle East correspondent, based in Tel Aviv.
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