As it happened: Obama Middle East speech

Key points

  • US President Barack Obama has delivered a major speech on the Middle East
  • He said the US must use all its resources to encourage reform in the Arab World
  • He said the boundaries of Israel and a Palestinian state should be based on pre-1967 borders with agreed swaps
  • He told Syria's president to lead transition in the country or "get out of the way"
  • He said the US has both an historic opportunity and responsibility to support those seeking freedoms
  • He said the future of the US and the Middle East were bound together by economics, security, history and faith
  • He said the US will continue to insist the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations
  • He said mass arrests and brute force in Bahrain are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens

    Welcome to our live event page as US President Barack Obama is set to deliver a keynote speech on events in the Middle East. We'll be updating with quotes, instant analysis and commentary as well as reaction from around the world. You can contact us via email, text or twitter. We'll publish what we can.


    This speech has been compared, in terms of its importance, to that given in 2009 at the University of Cairo in which Mr Obama set out his vision for how the US could shift its approach towards the region.


    James Zogby from the Arab American Institute in Washington says he expects many Arabs are likely to be disappointed by President Obama's speech. He tells the BBC World Service that he has "surveyed Arabs, both revolutionaries from those who've led the Arab Spring and officials in other countries. And frankly they keep talking about wanting to hear America be decisive on the Israeli-Palestinian issue."


    Writing in the New York Times, Michael Shear suggests that though the speech will address issues in the Middle East, it will also be keenly listened to by a domestic audience who were initially attracted to Mr Obama's philosophy of balancing the fight against terror with reaching out to the Muslim world.


    Egypt's finance minister says he expects the US to pledge a $2bn aid package to the country, AFP reports.


    Egypt's Finance Minister Samir Radwan says he expects that $1bn of the aid package will go to support the country's budget, with another billion on projects, mainly for small and medium-sized businesses.

    1623: US Consulate Chennai

    tweets: NPR's @acarvin & Foreign Policy's @abuaardvark, will facilitate a world-wide conversation following the #MESpeech, on Twitter


    Israel has "nothing to worry about" ahead of Mr Obama's speech, says a senior US envoy in Jerusalem. The envoy, James Steinberg, stressed the "deep ties" between Israel and the US, AFP reports.

    1632: Jonathan Marcus BBC diplomatic correspondent

    says: Many wondered whether Mr Obama might set out some bold new initiative to try and get an Israeli-Palestinian peace process under way again. It looks increasingly as though he will not do that, but clearly what he does have to say on the Israel-Palestinian conflict is going to be watched very closely.

    1637: Callie ZOP

    tweets: Obama to pledge more in foreign aid...Ummm where is this money going to come from?

    1642: Jon Leyne, BBC Cairo correspondent

    says that there is some disillusionment in Egypt towards Mr Obama - particularly about his slowness to call on the country's ousted President Hosni Mubarak to go.

    1643: Ramin in Iran

    writes: The people in Middle East are contradictory. One side are calling for non-intervention of US and its allies in their own affairs and on the other hand are glued to their TVs to hear President Obama's lip service to their cause for democratisation and justice.

    1644: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    says that one thing about US and Western policy has been its inconsistency - different solutions for different countries. That is something that does not play well in a region that is critical of the West.

    1649: Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East correspondent

    tweets: Policy to match the drama and danger of 2011 in the region? Or some more platitudes?

    1653: Jon Leyne BBC News, Cairo

    says the US president will be trying to convince Middle Eastern audiences that though the US may no longer have that direct, hard power they now have the opportunity to be more culturally, politically and philosophically in tune with new governments in the region.

    1654: Kim Ghattas BBC News, Washington

    says that by delivering the speech from the state department, the administration is trying to emphasise that soft power is at the centre of its engagement with the rest of the world.

    1659: Abeer Allam of the Financial Times

    tweets: Just because it is #MESpeech does not mean you have to late! U can only be late to appointments if u LIVE in the mideast

    1700: Kim Ghattas BBC News, Washington

    adds that part of the reason that it has taken the US so long to apply credible pressure to Syria is because the country presents a set of challenges unlike any other in the region.


    Mark Leon Goldberg, managing editor of UN Dispatch, argues that Bahrain is the perfect testing ground to see whether or not President Obama's speech offers a meaningful rebalancing of US policy in the region.


    Plenty of speculation on Twitter about why Obama is late. Word is that he's finally left the White House.

    1706: Sehreen

    tweets: sitting in my office at @StateDept, excited that POTUS is in building and will be making MidEast speech #MESpeech

    1709: Mark Mardell, BBC North America editor

    says: Obama running late, just left the White House. Well informed Laura Rozen at Yahoo expects big news on peace process ..others think unlikely.


    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stepped up to introduce the speech

    1712: The BBC's Franz Strasser

    tweets: Imam Tadese in Pittsburgh wants reassurance from President Obama that the war is not against Islam and the Muslims.

    1713: Mark Mardell, BBC North America editor

    says: Clinton talks of leading in new ways : President may focus on economic development now as important as security


    And here is President Obama.


    Obama speaks of a period of "extraordinary change" in the Arab world.

    1716: Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center

    tweets: When you think about it, it's sort of concerning that this big #MEspeech has come 5 months into the 'Arab spring.' Yes, 5 months.


    Obama's description of the Arab Spring: "Square by square, town by town, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights."


    Obama weaving in the killing of Bin Laden there: "After years of war against al-Qaeda we have dealt al-Qaeda a huge blow. Bin Laden was no martyr, he was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate. He insisted that violence was the only path to change."

    1721: Paul Adams BBC News, Washington

    says: Hillary Clinton talks about the need for America to "lead in new and innovative ways". Part of the narrative today will be that a decade, often apparently characterised only by displays of raw American power, is over.


    Obama: The case of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation triggered protests across the region, was the reaction to "the relentless tyranny that denies their citizens dignity".


    He adds that events over the past six months show us that "strategies of repression will not work anymore. Cell-phones and social networks allow people to connect like never before."

    1724: Sarsour in Nablus

    tweets: When will Obama stop waxing lyrical about the achievements of others and say something useful? #MEspeech


    Obama says people using non-violence have achieved more in six months than terrorists have achieved over decades.


    Obama acknowledges there will be "perils amongst this moment of progress".


    A short burst of applause there as Obama says the US opposes violence and oppression in the region.

    1729: Mark Mardell, BBC North America editor

    says: Now the difficult bit. Obama says America's old interests remain but not "our interests at their expense". Democracy and economics to the fore.

    Paul Adams BBC News, Washington

    : Two leaders have stepped down. Others may follow, says the president. A warning to regimes that fail to heed the message of the Arab spring.

    1732: The BBC's Mark Mardell:

    Obama linking Arab protests to key moments in America's history, the Boston tea party and civil rights movement. The message : their aspirations are ours too.


    On Libya, Obama says "we've learned from our experience in Iraq how costly it is to impose regime change by force [...] but, had we not acted in Libya, thousands would have been killed".


    Obama has now named Libya's Col Gaddafi - whose departure he said was inevitable - Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and Yemen's President Saleh, carefully calibrating his message to each. Bahrain also mentioned.

    1738: Jordan A in Seattle

    tweets: #MESpeech: Obama's speech is dignified, I believe. He's giving credit where credit is due, but sadly policy does not follow up with support

    1740: Ari Melber of The Nation magazine

    tweets: This is one of the stronger statements on Syria directly from the President - which is great. #MESpeech


    Plenty of talk here about the links between power and information, with pledges to support open access to the internet. "The legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens," Mr Obama says.

    1743: From the BBC's Andrew North in Tripoli, Libya:

    Asked when and if Libyan govt will react, an official said: "We don't tend to react quickly to these things, but anyway Pres Obama will probably just be telling us off."


    The Middle East, Obama says, was the cradle of three world religions. Intolerance, he says, can lead only to "suffering and stagnation".


    Obama's comments on the importance of women to change in the Middle East received applause. "The region will never reach its potential when more than half its population is prevented from achieving their potential," he said.


    In outlining economic interventions in the region that will encourage growth, not dependency, Obama says: "Trade, not just aid; and investment, not just assistance."

    1748: Maghrebi

    tweets: So confusing in his qualified condemnation of state repression in #Bahrain. #MESpeech


    Obama has confirmed what the Egyptian finance minister had said about a $2bn package for the country.


    We seem to be approaching the end here, and Obama begins to address the long-awaited topic of peace in the Middle East - the Arab-Israeli conflict.


    More on those remarks about the economy: Far from oil and natural resources, Obama says that "the greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people."


    Obama's plan includes a trade and investment partnership to encourage economic growth across the region. Without oil revenues, he points out, "this region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland."


    On Mid-East peace, Obama is challenging a world view that sees the problem as intractable and irresolvable. He says now, more than ever, a resolution is needed.


    "The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace," he says.

    1755: Matthew Lumby

    tweets: Nice speech, but not exactly ground breaking from Obama. Saving the best bits until last with challenge to Israel. #MEspeech

    1756: Via Twitter The BBC's Jeremy Bowen

    tweets: Strong criticism of Assad from Obama. He can lead transition or get out of the way.

    1758: Via Twitter The BBC's Jeremy Bowen

    tweets: Saudis won't like Obama's criticism of Bahrain crackdown.


    Palestinian leaders, Obama says, will have to find a "credible answer" to Israel's "legitimate questions" about to negotiate with a party - Hamas - that has shown itself unwilling to recognise Israel's right to exist.


    More linking of the interests of US citizens with those in the Middle East as Obama speaks of the "joy" with which protesters across the Middle East are claiming the rights enjoyed by Americans.


    Stirring final words from the US president: "The United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just."

    1804: Noor Fatimah Malik in Toronto

    tweets: That speech had no surprises. So disappointed. #MEspeech #Obama

    1809: R Klinger in Anaheim Hills, USA

    writes: It is pretty clear what US policy in the Middle East has been for some time and President Obama's speech does not reflect anything dramatically different. The question is, and always will be, will the people in these North African and Middle East countries rise peacefully to institute the democratic change that they seem to aspire too? Or, will one tyrant simple be replaced by another?

    1809: Kim Ghattas BBC News, Washington

    says that in Egypt US officials did not want to look as though they were driving the change, they wanted it to come from the Egyptian people themselves.

    1810: Haytham Sharaf

    tweets: From what I can see (followed speech through twitter and read text after), Obama was firmer than I expected, still not much though. #MEspeech

    1815: Wyrie Davies BBC Jerusalem correspondent

    reports that Israeli commentators are saying there was no single great idea or new incentive to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is a speech, he says, which will be criticised by hard-liners on both sides.

    1816: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    tweets: Israeli govt won't like Obama's support for an independent Palestine based on 1967 borders plus land swaps -- Palestinians will.

    1818: Jon Leyne BBC News, Cairo

    says Egypt desperately needs financial help, but the core principles detailed in the speech will be more important to Egyptians than the package of aid.

    1824: Andrew North BBC correspondent in Tripoli

    says that what was absent from Obama's discussion on Libya within the speech was a sense of the future strategy, exactly two months since coalition military action began.


    Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has called an "urgent" meeting following Obama's speech, according to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, quoted by AFP news agency.


    So, to recap: President Obama spoke of peoples who had risen up, and brought about change through non-violence. He stressed the US was on their side - its top priority was to support reform that met the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people.


    But he also singled out Libya, Syria and Iran, warning that in too many countries calls for change were being met by violence.


    Mr Obama also outlined concrete proposals - among them a region-wide initiative to advance economic reform.

    1837: Former state department spokesman PJ Crowley

    tweets: It remains unclear why #Assad still merits a chance to lead the transition in #Syria when #Qaddafi forfeited that right in #Libya.

    1839: Mark Mardell, BBC Americas editor,

    says: President Obama hasn't explicitly set out why his policy has been different towards different countries in the region, but he has gone much further than some thought on the peace process, an insistence that the status quo is not acceptable and that Israel must act boldly, beginning with the outline of two states.

    1841: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    says President Obama's declaration that a future Palestinian state must be based on pre-1967 borders, plus land swaps, is what Palestinians wanted to hear. But, in Israel, Netanyahu's government will be furious.

    1845: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor,

    adds that it brings US policy into line with that of its European allies. For Israel, the president sweetened what he said with a declaration of America's commitment to its security.


    Catching up or going in-depth? Here is the full text of President Obama's speech.


    Hamas says the US president must take "concrete steps to protect the rights of Palestinians" and not issue "slogans", according to Agence France Presse.

    1901: Tony Blair Middle East envoy,

    welcomes Mr Obama's speech. "There's an attempt here to say, however blocked and difficult the political negotiation is right now, it's important people realise, if you want a solution, here are the outlines of it, because this is the only solution that's going to work," he tells the BBC.

    1907: Robert Satloff Director of the Washington Institute,

    tells the BBC that Obama was very tight-lipped about Saudi Arabia: "It is the largest outlier in this speech. It is the major contradiction between a policy based on reform, and the least reform-minded country in the Middle East."

    1918: Ezzedine C Fishere of the American University in Cairo,

    tells the BBC that the speech marks a significant shift for the US president. "We might be witnessing the birth of what would be Obama's foreign policy in the region, which has been lacking. This time, he is matching what he is saying with policy," he says.


    Israel should not be asked to withdraw to the borders that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, Israel's prime minister says, according to Agence France Presse.

    1925: Andrew North BBC News, Tripoli,

    says that Obama's speech left unanswered the mounting questions over Western action in the country. Despite stepped up bombing of Tripoli and rumours of defections, the situation is still widely regarded as a stalemate.

    1931: Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor,

    says that one of the interesting things was the absence of Saudi Arabia in Obama's speech. The Saudis see the changes in the region through a very different lens. They see the hand of Iran behind a lot of what is happening.


    In a statement, the Israeli prime minister's office says: "Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of US commitments made to Israel in 2004 [...] Among other things, those commitments relate to Israel not having to withdraw to the 1967 lines".


    More from the office of Israel's prime minister: "Without a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel, no territorial concession will bring peace."


    Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas appreciates Barack Obama's efforts to renew deadlocked peace talks with Israel, a senior official is quoted as telling Reuters news agency.


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