Obama's message to the Arab world

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, and this is The World. President Obama has wasted little time reaching out to the Arab world. In his first week on the job, he called for the closure of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Now, Mr. Obama has used his first formal TV interview since taking office to push home the point that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world. The World's Katy Clark begins our coverage.

KATY CLARK: The interview with the Arab satellite Al-Arabiya yesterday was chock full of words like �listen�, �commitment� and �respect.� At one point, Mr. Obama said that his administration would be clear about distinguishing between organizations like Al-Qaeda, that espouse violence, and people who may disagree with his administration on certain actions.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down. But to the broader Muslim world, what we're going to be offering is a hand to clench.

CLARK: Mr. Obama also said his time living and traveling abroad has helped him to understand that regardless of faith, people all have certain common hopes and dreams.

OBAMA: My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives.

CLARK: Mark Lynch is a professor of International Affairs at George Washington University and blogs at foreignpolicy.com. He says he was delighted by the interview.

MARK LYNCH: Especially because it wasn't in response to some particular crisis. When President Bush went on Al-Arabiya for the first time, it was to apologize about Abu Ghraib. And this doesn't come as something which he was forced to do or grudgingly brought to the table. This was something that he clearly chose to do.

CLARK: President Obama's interview was also well received in the Arab Middle East. Sharif Nashashibi is Chairman of the London-based Arab Media Watch. He says it may take a few days for the full impact of the interview to be felt. Still, Nashashibi says it was an important interview and he expects it will make an impression.

SHARIF NASHASHIBI: I think it's a very interesting interview because primarily his focus is on listening to the Muslim world and respect for the Muslim world and a change in American policies.

CLARK: Nashashibi says Muslims will obviously rate Obama on his actions, though, not just his words.

NASHASHIBI: But the fact that his words are so different to George Bush is a good start for that kind of hope.

CLARK: President Obama was also addressing Muslims in Southeast Asia in the interview. Zachary Abuza is the author of �Muslims, Politics and Violence in Indonesia.� He says that even though America's reputation took a hit in Southeast Asia under President Bush's tenure, Mr. Obama's childhood ties to Indonesia could work in his favor. Yet, Abuza notes that Muslims there are closely following the situation in Gaza, and they'll be watching how President Obama proceeds on Mideast peace negotiations, especially based on previous comments he's made.

ZACHARY ABUZA: When President Obama came out and said that, you know, our alliance with and friendship with Israel is unwavering, I think that will be read by a lot of people in southeast Asia as saying, �Ah, see? America's not really going to change that much because Israel will never change.�

CLARK: President Obama's interview with Al-Arabiya covered a wide range of issues, but Iraq was notably absent from the discussion, and Mr. Obama didn't lay out any specific plans of action on the challenges ahead. Granting his first formal interview to an Arab network was also considered by some a snub of US media, but President Obama made clear he wasn't directing his message to Americans. For The World, this is Katy Clark.