President Barack Obama will stress what the White House calls his personal commitment "based upon mutual interests and mutual respect" to strengthening U.S. ties to the Muslim world in a much-anticipated speech in Egypt next week. White House advisers said Friday that Obama would continue his outreach to Muslims, which began with striking words in his inaugural address, as he embarks on an overseas trip that will both commemorate the past and look to the future.
Obama starts the swing Wednesday when he arrives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He will meet with King Abdullah to discuss a range of issues, including energy, Middle East peace and terrorism. Later, Obama will head to Germany, where he will see Chancellor Angela Merkel, visit with wounded U.S. troops at a military hospital in Landstuhl and tour the former Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald.
He will close out the trip in France, where he will hold talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy, give a speech and participate in activities commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day.
But the centerpiece of the five-day journey comes when Obama goes to Cairo University in Egypt, to deliver his long-promised speech on U.S. relations with the Muslim world. He also will hold talks with President Hosni Mubarak and visit a mosque.
It's the entire latest step in Obama's effort to repair a damaged relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. "It's in need of substantial improvement," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Thus, before an audience that includes people whose political viewpoints run the spectrum, advisers say Obama will discuss how the United States and Muslim countries can bridge some of their differences.
They say he also will talk about particular areas of concern, including violent extremism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as opportunities for future partnerships that would be mutually beneficial for both Americans and Muslims.
In a conference call with reporters, advisers underscored Egypt's history as a strategic U.S. ally, and stressed that the United States sees opportunity in part because of the country's burgeoning younger population.
"The message the president wants to send is, not different, frankly, then the one he's been sending since he was inaugurated; namely, that we believe this is an opportunity for us in the United States," said Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. "We've had a great partnership over many decades; we want to get back on a shared partnership, back in a conversation that focuses on our shared values." As both candidate and president, Obama _ whose middle name is Hussein and whose father was a Muslim from Kenya _ has called for greater understanding between the United States and Islamic nations and their people.
During his inaugural speech, he told the Muslim world the United States "will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Earlier this spring in Turkey, Obama declared that the U.S. "is not and never will be at war with Islam." He also has granted interviews to Arabic-language networks, telephoned friendly Arab leaders and sent special envoy George J. Mitchell to the Middle East on a "listening tour."