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US President Barack Obama shaking hands with Saudi King Abdullah
Obama with King Abdullah in Riyadh on WednesdayImage: AP

Fence-mending visit

June 3, 2009

US President Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on a Mideast tour marked by a widely-anticipated speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on Thursday. Obama's visit has drawn condemnation by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.


Speaking after meeting King Abdullah in the capital Riyadh on Wednesday, Obama took note of the longstanding relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia and expressed hope that the two nations could "make progress on a whole host of issues of mutual interest."

The two are expected to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions and Saudi influence in maintaining oil price stability.

Obama stepped off Air Force One in blistering heat to a formal welcome including a 21-gun salute.

"I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek His Majesty's counsel," Obama said.

Saudi Arabia is a key US ally, with the Saudis likely using the visit to push Obama to put fresh pressure on Israel to seek peace with the Palestinians.

Speech to urge Arabs, Israelis to be honest with each other

But it's Obama's scheduled speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on Thursday that has drawn global attention.

He is expected to call for reconciliation between the West and the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.

The president sketched the main themes of the speech in an interview with the New York Times.

The West Bank Jewish settlement of Shilo
The Obama administration insists Israel freeze settlements so negotiations on Palestinian statehood can progressImage: AP

Obama told the paper a key part of his message in Cairo would be: "Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly."

"There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the 'threat' from Israel, but won't admit it," Obama told the paper.

There are a lot of Israelis, he said, "who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution --that is in their long-term interest -- but not enough folks are willing to recognise that publicly."

Bin Laden condemns Obama's visit

Obama's arrival in the region as well as his planned speech in Cairo led al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to release a new video recording, aired by Al Jazeera television, in which he accused the US president of sowing fresh seeds of hatred for the US in the Islamic world.

"The number of these seeds is equal to the number of displaced people from Swat valley," the recording said.

The Saudis have been looking for ways to relaunch a 2002 Middle East peace initiative that they proposed and that has been praised by the Obama administration.

In it, the Saudis offered normalized relations with the Arab world in exchange for a solution for refugees as well as a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

On a visit to Washington last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Obama at the White House where he refused to endorse the idea of a two-state solution.

Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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