Obama’s Cairo speech rabbis

Obama’s Cairo speech rabbis

Who advised President Barack Obama on the big speech?

“Over the weekend, White House officials hosted a group of Muslim and other foreign policy scholars to discuss what points Mr. Obama should touch on,” Politico‘s Mike Allen reports in Playbook.

The New York Times details: Ghaith Al-Omari from the American Task Force on Palestine, Carnegie Endowment’s Karim Sadjadpour, Iran expert Vali Nasr, who’s been working for Holbrooke, and Brookings’ Shibley Telhami, who’s been all over the airwaves incidentally commenting on the speech:

On the Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day weekend, White House officials hosted a group of Muslim and other foreign policy scholars to discuss what points Mr. Obama should touch on. The meeting was organized by Michael McFaul, the White House senior adviser for Russia, who arranged it under his purview as a senior democracy adviser. Other White House officials in the 90-minute meeting included the National Security Council officials Mara Rudman, Dan Shapiro, Denis McDonough and Ben Rhodes.

On the other side of the table were Karim Sadjadpour, an
Iranian-American expert from the Carnegie Endowment, Ghaith Al-Omari, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, Vali Nasr, another Iran expert who is soon to join the Obama administration, and Shibley Telhami, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, who described for the assembled officials the results of polling in the Middle East about attitudes toward the United States, according to people in the meeting.

Those who consulted the NSC on the speech were asked by the NSC not to comment on the meeting, Al-Omari said. 

How’d Obama do? That will be worked over for days by the speech’s various audiences. But Al-Omari’s colleague Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force for Palestine, was bowled over: “President Obama deservedly received a standing ovation from his audience at Cairo University today, after delivering a pitch-perfect and inspiring speech to the Arab and Muslim peoples,” Ibish wrote on his blog. “The President’s words were especially significant … with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, bluntly stating ‘it is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true,’ which is that it is in ‘Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, American interests and the world’s interests’ to achieve an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that allows for the creation of a Palestinian state.'”

“The speech was nothing short of spectacular,” says Alan Pinkas, the former consul general of the Israeli mission to the United Nations in New York, and director of Rabin Center for Tolerance at Bar Ilan University. “Coherent, lucid, balanced and smart. It’s been a long long time, maybe since JFK, that an American President delivered a speech of such magnitude and scope.”

“President Obama’s blunt, honest address in Cairo was absolutely critical in signaling a new era of understanding with Muslim communities worldwide,” reacted Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement. “He shattered stereotypes on both sides, reminded the west and the Muslim world of our responsibilities, and reaffirmed one of America’s highest ideals and traditional roles — that those who seek freedom and democracy, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have no greater friend than the United States of America. … In addressing these challenges directly, President Obama has created an historic opportunity to find a new beginning.”

“I was pleased the President articulated clearly the responsibilities of all the regional parties to create an environment conducive to viable negotiations toward a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians,” Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), chairwoman of the all-important State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement, going on to signal her belief that it shouldn’t be only Israel being pressured. “While compromise will be required on both sides, the Palestinians and Arab states must unequivocally denounce terrorism, recognize Israel, cease anti-Israel incitement at home and within the United Nations, and support viable PA institutions.” 

More analysis of the speech from my FP colleague Marc Lynch.

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