TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – Iran reacted coolly Wednesday to the inauguration of Barack Obama, while some Arab leaders immediately called on the new American president to dive into Mideast peace efforts.
On the streets of the Muslim world, from Arab capitals to Palestinian refugee camps, some greeted Obama’s first hours as president with pessimism, others with hope. Newspaper editorials and political commentators laid out the challenges facing the new U.S. administration, from the wreckage in Gaza to how to end the war in Iraq and confront a strengthening Taliban in Afghanistan.
A Jordanian doctor of Palestinian origin said the moment was right for the Middle East, as well, to take steps to build better ties with the United States.
“Arabs, both ordinary people and their leaders, should stop their defiance and insults of the U.S. administration and the American people,” said Jihad Barghouti.
In Iran, the government was waiting to see what practical steps Obama would take toward a country that the Bush administration shunned. In recent years, the two nations have been deeply at odds over Iran’s nuclear program and what the U.S. says is its support for Shiite militiamen in neighboring Iraq — a charge Iran denies. Obama has spoken of a need to engage the country.
Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, urged the new president to change American policies in the Middle East. For now, though, Iran would wait to see what “practical policies” Obama will adopt before making any judgment about his stance toward Iran, Mottaki said, according to the official IRNA news agency.
He said Obama needed to take action to correct a bad image of America in the world and to employ new advisers who would tell the “truth” about the Middle East.
“A new Middle East is in the making,” IRNA quoted Mottaki as saying. “The new generation in this region seeks justice and rejects domination. A change in Mideast policy is one of the areas … if the new U.S. government claims to follow a policy of change.”
In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak pressed Obama in a congratulatory cable to make the Middle East — in particular the Palestinians — a priority.
“I would like to stress that the region has high hopes that your administration will deal with the Palestinian issue from its first day as an immediate priority and a key for solving other issues in the Middle East, which faces shaking crises,” Mubarak wrote.
Obama used a few words in his inaugural address Tuesday to reach out to the Muslim world, saying the U.S. was seeking “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” Obama said.
In Pakistan, where there has been anger at U.S. military strikes on militant strongholds along the border with Afghanistan, one hard-line Islamist welcomed Obama’s words of outreach.
“We can also anticipate good hope provided Obama really takes a new course of action toward injustices the Muslim world is facing at this moment,” said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a major hard-line Islamist party.
Responding to Obama’s message, Ahmed said the new president would have to reverse the “biased policies of Bush if he is really interested in seeking a new way forward with Muslim world.” A new way forward, he said, can be based only on equality and justice.