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Moroccan FM: Obama needs to “adjust” his Middle East approach

Two years after President Barack Obama‘s famous speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, it’s time for him to rethink and adjust his approach to the region, according to the foreign minister of Morocco. Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri, who is touring Washington this week, met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday afternoon. He ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Two years after President Barack Obama's famous speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, it's time for him to rethink and adjust his approach to the region, according to the foreign minister of Morocco.

Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri, who is touring Washington this week, met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday afternoon. He sat down with The Cable for an exclusive interview just before the meeting, following a speech at the Brookings Institution. Fihri said that Obama should revise his strategy for dealing with the Arab world in light of the dramatic events sweeping the region.

"[Obama] now has some results, some bad, some good, some question marks. We need an evaluation, an adjustment," he said. The recent rifts between European allies aside, the United States and Europe must come together to establish a clear approach to the region, he said.

Two years after President Barack Obama‘s famous speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, it’s time for him to rethink and adjust his approach to the region, according to the foreign minister of Morocco.

Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri, who is touring Washington this week, met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday afternoon. He sat down with The Cable for an exclusive interview just before the meeting, following a speech at the Brookings Institution. Fihri said that Obama should revise his strategy for dealing with the Arab world in light of the dramatic events sweeping the region.

"[Obama] now has some results, some bad, some good, some question marks. We need an evaluation, an adjustment," he said. The recent rifts between European allies aside, the United States and Europe must come together to establish a clear approach to the region, he said.

"We need coherent and complementary actions vis-à-vis all of the south of the Mediterranean."

Asked whether the United States and Europe have different interests in the region, especially in Libya, he said, "Now they have common interests."

The United States could start by deepening and broadening its strategic relationship with Morocco, he suggested. Morocco has a free trade agreement with the United States, as well as a compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, but wants a deeper strategic dialogue and greater cooperation in areas like counter-narcotics, he said.

"Now, because the world has changed, now we have to decide on a new roadmap, action oriented, to look to the future, because our society has changed, our economy has changed, and we have to readjust this strong partnership in the context of our common evolution," he said.

Following their meeting, Clinton thanked Morocco for leading the drive for Arab support for the Libyan intervention, especially last weekend during a crucial meeting in Paris. Fihri said that it was the responsibility of all U.N. member countries to enforce the Security Council resolution to protect civilians but that Morocco was not in a position to participate militarily.

"Morocco has other military concerns because of the Sahara issue… but we have to think first about our national interest," he said.

Morocco supports the international effort to protect civilians in Libya, but said that some nations should be left alone to sort out their own affairs, and noted the example of Saudi Arabia.

"Saudi Arabia is an important state, has an important role, and is key for many things. We have to respect their policy, not only at a domestic level. We cannot decide many things in the region without Saudi Arabia," Fihri said.

Clinton praised Morocco’s political reforms as a model for the region. She also said that the military intervention in Libya was making "significant progress," and had halted the Libyan government’s pending assault on Benghazi, which would have put hundreds of thousands of Libyans at risk.

"I know that the nightly news cannot cover a humanitarian crisis that thankfully did not happen, but it is important to remember that many, many Libyans are safer today because the international community took action," she said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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