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President Obama greets members of the audience after delivering a policy address on events in the Middle East and North Africa at the State Department on Thursday. (AP)

Obama: We Stand With Those 'Who Are Reaching For Their Rights'

May 19, 2011

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President Obama delivers a policy address on events in the Middle East and North Africa at the State Department in Washington, on Thursday.

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The "Arab Spring" that has seen regimes toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, and other governments in North African and the Middle East under pressure from their people to reform, presents "a historic opportunity," President Obama said today.

The United States, he said in an address to diplomats at the State Department, now has a chance to help shape the world "as it should be" rather than "as it is."

And the president drew parallels between what has happened in those regions and the history of America.

"The United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves," he said. "Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just."

In his address, the president did not go into specifics about why the U.S. and its allies have chosen to intervene militarily in one case (Libya), but not where other regimes (in Syria and Yemen, for example) have struck back hard at those demanding reform.

He laid out again his administration's view of what Israel and the Palestinians need to do to get peace talks back on track. And he outlined where the U.S. wants those talks to lead:

"The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state."

It was the president's first major address aimed at the Muslim world and the Middle East since the Arab Spring movement bloomed earlier this year.

It's 1:30 p.m. ET now. We live-blogged in this post. Read through to see how the story developed (scroll down and "read up" if you prefer). And go here for a live Twitter interview with White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

Update at 1 p.m. ET. Standing With Those Who "Are Reaching For Their Rights":

As he concluded, the president said that "the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just."

Update at 12:58 p.m. ET. "All Men Are Created Equal":

Drawing a comparison between events in the Middle East and North Africa and America's history, the president says that "I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of non-violence as a way to perfect our union - organizing, marching, and protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: 'We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.' "

Those words, he says, "must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa."

Update at 12:56 p.m. ET. "A Choice Between Hate And Hope":

The people of the Middle East and North Africa, Obama says, have "a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future. It's a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it's a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife."

Update at 12:54 p.m. ET. Move Forward On Territory And Security:

"Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met," Obama says. "I'm aware that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict. Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians."

Update at 12:53 p.m. ET. On Israel And Palestine:

"While the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel," the president says. "The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state."

Update at 12:52 p.m. ET. Israel And Palestine Must Act:

— "Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist."

— "The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace."

Update at 12:50 p.m. ET. Israel And Palestine:

"There are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward" on the Middle East peace process, the president notes. "I disagree. At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever."

Update at 12:45 p.m. ET. Aid For Egypt And Tunisia:

The president just got to some of the specifics that the administration previewed Wednesday.

— "We have asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week's G-8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt."

— "We do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt. ... We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation."

— "We are working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt."

— "The United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa."

Update at 12:42 ET. Trade, Not Just Aid":

"Drawing from what we've learned around the world," Obama says, "we think it's important to focus on trade, not just aid; and investment, not just assistance. The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness; the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young.

"That means, he says, that "America's support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy."

Update at 12:40 p.m. ET. Rights Of Women:

After saying the U.S. will continue to "insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men," the president says that "the region will never reach its potential when more than half its population is prevented from achieving their potential." That prompts some applause in the room.

Update at 12:39 p.m. ET. Religious Rights:

"In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, 'Muslims, Christians, we are one,' Obama says. "America will work to see that this spirit prevails - that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them."

Update at 12:38 pm. ET. "Information Is Power":

"Real reform will not come at the ballot box alone," the president says. "Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard - whether it's a big news organization or a blogger. In the 21st century, information is power."

Update at 12:36 p.m. ET. Yemen, Bahrain:

"We must acknowledge that our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for change consistent with the principles that I have outlined today," Obama says. "That is true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that is true, today, in Bahrain."

Update at 12:32 p.m. ET. Syria's Assad:

Syrian President Bashar Assad "can lead transition ... or get out of the way," Obama says. He notes the economic sanctions that the U.S. has slapped on Assad and some other top Syrian officials, but does not address whether the U.S. would support any military action to stop the Assad regime's crackdown on protesters.

Update at 12:31 p.m. ET. Libya:

If the U.S. and its allies had not taken military action against Libya, Obama says, "thousands would have been killed."

Update at 12:29 p.m. ET. What The U.S. Supports:

"Let me be specific," Obama says. The United States will "promote reform across the region and support transitions to democracy."

Update at 12:28 p.m. ET. The World "As It Should Be":

Obama says the United States should not accept the world "as it is," but seek to help shape it "as it should be."

Update at 12:26 p.m. ET. Street Vendor Over Dictator:

"We face a historic opportunity," Obama says, to show the world that American "values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator."

Update at 12:25 p.m. ET. On Changing Policy:

"Failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only fuel the suspicion," the president says, "that the Untied States pursues our interests at their expense."

Update at 12:23 p.m. ET. Non-Violence Trumps Terrorism:

The young people who, through non-violent means, toppled regimes, accomplished more in recent months "than terrorists have accomplished in decades," Obama says.

Update at 12:21 p.m. ET. "Change Cannot Be Denied":

The events of recent months in North Africa and the Middle East, says the president, show that "strategies of repression and strategies of aversion will not work any more." The leaders who tried to crush their people, he says, learned that "change cannot be denied."

Update at 12:18 p.m. ET. The Young Man Who Sparked The Arab Spring:

Beginning with some recent history, the president recalls the actions of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself afire and in turn lighted the flames that spread demands for change across North Africa and the Middle East.

Update at 12:17 p.m. ET. On bin Laden:

Osama bin Laden, the president says, "was no martyr. He was a mass murderer" who spread a "message of hate."

Update at 12:15 p.m. ET. The Arab Spring:

Moving right to the Arab Spring, the president says that "square by square, town by town, country by country ... the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights." He adds that "we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history and by faith."

Update at 12:13 p.m. ET:

As she finished her introduction of the president, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said these are times that require a "sophisticated understanding of the role America plays" in the world.

Update at 12:12 p.m. ET. The "Benjamin Franklin Room":

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton just noted that the president is speaking in the department's Benjamin Franklin Room.

Update at 12:10 p.m. ET. Secretary Clinton:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is making opening remarks. "We have seen that in a changing world, America's leadership is more essential than ever," she says. She says the diplomats at State are working to turn his policies into "real results."

Update at 12:08 p.m. ET. Two-Minute Warning:

Those in the room have been asked to sit down and turn off their phones.

Update at 12:03 p.m. ET. Should Start Soon:

Reuters reports that the president is now at the State Department.

Update at 11:57 a.m. ET. Recasting Policy:

On the air a moment ago, NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro said the administration hopes this speech will "reshape the narrative of the role of America" in the Muslim world — to one of "helping, stabilizing, advancing [and] supporting."

Update at 11:53 a.m. ET: At least as of a few minutes ago, reporters say, the president had not yet left the White House for the short ride to the State Department. There's a #whyobamaislate conversation starting on Twitter.

Update at 11:49 a.m. ET: As soon as we note this, the president will probably appear — he's almost 10 minutes late at this point.

Update at 11:41 a.m. ET: The White House just switched on its live webcast, so it's likely the president will be coming to the podium shortly. He's speaking at the State Department.

Update at 11:35 a.m. ET. Expectations:

If al-Jazeera's take on the speech is any indication of expectations in the Arab world, then the bottomline is that the media there are looking for clues to "U.S. policy towards waves of political changes sweeping North Africa and the Middle East."

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. Ambassador Rice:

Program note — The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, is due on today's All Things Considered to discuss the president's address.

Update at 11:25 a.m. ET. Erase Doubts?

CBS News sums up one of the president's challenges this way: "Mr. Obama is also trying to erase any doubt that the U.S. supports the call for change" in the Arab world.

Update at 11:11 a.m. ET. Contrast To Cairo:

As Politico notes, "two years ago, when President Barack Obama spoke to the Muslim world in Cairo, he devoted 12 paragraphs totaling more than 1,000 words to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Promoting democracy in Muslim countries mustered a mere three paragraphs totaling 375 words."

Obviously, things have changed a great deal since then. If you want to go back and see what the president said in Cairo on June 4, 2009, we live-blogged that address. Or, you can see the video here and the transcript here.

Our other coverage:

Audio of the address will be streaming at the top of this post (click "LISTEN") and on NPR.org (our apologies to some mobile users who can't take advantage of that). [Update at 1:33 p.m. ET: The streaming coverage is over, so we've removed the player.] Also here on The Two-Way, NPR's Andy Carvin will be co-hosting a conversation on Twitter during and after the president's speech. You can submit questions on Twitter via the hashtag #MEspeech.

We're also planning a live video stream as Andy and Marc Lynch of ForeignPolicy.com's Middle East blog interview Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, on Twitter, after the address.

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