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Obama, in Mideast Speech, Supports Palestinian Demand

President Obama giving his speech on Middle East policy at the State Department in Washington, Thursday.
President Obama giving his speech on Middle East policy at the State Department in Washington, Thursday.

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

President Obama discussed the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa in a speech Thursday in Washington.

BARACK OBAMA: "We support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region. Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest. Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal."

The president announced new aid to help democracy efforts in Egypt and Tunisia. The leaders of both countries were overthrown earlier this year.

And Mister Obama strongly condemned Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.

BARACK OBAMA: "President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests. It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests. It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara'a, and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition."

Mr. Obama linked the protests in the Arab world to unmet economic needs.

BARACK OBAMA: "After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets. The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family. Too many in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, and perhaps the hope that their luck will change."

The president also said he disagrees with people who argue that moving forward on a Middle East peace plan is not possible now because of all the change taking place. In his words, "the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever."

Mr. Obama gave his support to a major Palestinian demand. He said the borders of Israel and a future Palestine should be based on lines that existed before the nineteen sixty-seven Middle East war. Israel captured areas including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip during the Six-Day War with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Mr. Obama said there should be conditions that would involve land exchanges between Israel and the Palestinians.

BARACK OBAMA: "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. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the nineteen sixty-seven lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

On Friday, President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Mr. Netanyahu said he values Mr. Obama's efforts and that Israel is willing to make "generous compromises for peace." But he said Israel cannot go back to the nineteen sixty-seven lines.

Those lines, he said, are "indefensible." He says an Israeli withdrawal from some of the areas gained during the Six-Day War would leave major Jewish settlements in the West Bank outside of Israel.

Hanna Siniora is a member of the Palestine National Council from East Jerusalem. He praised Mr. Obama for talking in detail about borders, saying it was an important point for the Palestinians.

HANNA SINIORA: "We heard all American administrations talk about unshakeable security for Israel. We are not against security for Israel, but we are asking at the same time for security for the Palestinians, and this can only happen if the border between the two states is defined."

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.


Contributing: Meredith Buel, Andre de Nesnera, Kent Klein, Luis Ramirez and Dan Robinson