JAKARTA (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Wednesday much more needs to be done to repair frayed U.S. relations with the Muslim world in an acknowledgement of the difficulties in eradicating “years of mistrust.”
In a speech highlighting a nostalgic visit to Indonesia, where he spent four years as a young boy, Obama spoke fondly of his formative years in the world’s most populous Muslim country.
“Indonesia is a part of me,” said Obama, who left around 10:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m. ET) for the G20 summit in South Korea, the next stop on a 10-day Asia tour.
His speech was an update to a major address he gave 17 months ago in Cairo where he declared a “new beginning” in U.S.-Muslim relations after the tensions over the September 11, 2001, attacks and the Bush government’s response to them.
Since his Cairo address, irritants remain on both sides. Al Qaeda still seeks to attack its Western enemies. Little progress has been made in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and U.S. troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Confidence in Obama has dropped in many Muslim nations as a result.
“In the 17 months that have passed we have made some progress, but much more work remains to be done,” Obama said.
Obama said “no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust” but he promised, “No matter what setbacks may come, the United States is committed to human progress. That is who we are. That is what we have done. That is what we will do.”
On the Middle East specifically, Obama said the Israeli-Palestinian peace process faces “enormous obstacles” after he relaunched talks in September only to see the dialogue bogged down over disputes between the parties.
“But let there be no doubt: we will spare no effort in working for the outcome that is just, and that is in the interest of all the parties involved: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”
Obama was being forced to cut short his twice-postponed visit to Indonesia by concern that an ash cloud from the deadly Mount Merapi volcano would prevent Air Force One from taking off in time to attend the G20 summit in Seoul.
But his curtailed schedule still allowed time for a visit to Jakarta’s national Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in southeast Asia, and his speech at the University of Indonesia.
Speaking to a crowd of thousand that cheered him like a rock star, Obama said Indonesia served as a powerful example as an emerging democracy working to develop its economy and a Muslim nation that is tolerant of other religions.
“Your achievements demonstrate that democracy and development reinforce one another,” he said.
Obama has been greeted as a returning hero in Indonesia, where he moved with his mother in 1967, a sharp contrast after the heavy blow he received at home in mid-term elections on November 2, when rival Republicans scored big victories over his fellow Democrats.
He peppered his speech with Indonesian words and phrases, drawing frequent applause and cheers from the mostly young audience.
Indonesia is the second stop on Obama’s four-country tour of Asia, which ends on November 15. Obama was also received with adulation in India, his first stop, where even critics were charmed by the U.S. leader and especially his wife, first lady Michelle Obama.