Gulf media shows mixed interest in Obama's speech

Dubai - 

Gulf newspapers gave a lukewarm response on Friday to a keynote Middle East policy speech by US President Barack Obama, which one Saudi newspaper criticised as more "fine words".

"The American president has been at it again," the Saudi daily Arab News said in an editorial. "Two years ago, President Barack Obama reached out to the Muslim world in Cairo, promising a new beginning to America’s relationship with it. The Muslim world responded enthusiastically... but over the following months it became clear that there was nothing to reach out and grab."

The paper argued that Arabs were no longer interested in listening to Obama. "He might as well have been speaking in a soundproof box. The only people who were listening were the Americans and the West. Even before he opened his mouth, Arabs were in no mood to trust him or believe in him."

The paper said offering support for reform and financial aid will not build the necessary trust, adding that the US position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained the key point, on which Obama did not deliver.

"If Obama wants our trust and friendship, then he must work on the one area where he has failed so disgracefully to deliver -- Palestine," it said. "On that he showed yesterday that not only has he nothing to offer but that he has become the problem. "He reaffirmed that Israel can always count on the US for its security and for protection from international criticism... With guarantees like that, the Israelis are never going to make meaningful concessions," the paper added.

The editor of the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, Ghassan Charbel, said Obama appeared to be "trying to present a policy adapting to the winds of change that hit the region." But on the Palestinian question, Charbel said there was nothing new. "As far as the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is concerned, repeating the same general principles failed to hide that Obama has failed to make any progress in this core issue," he wrote.

Many dailies in both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait played down Obama's address, consigning it to their inside pages. In Bahrain, newspapers close to the government ignored Obama's criticism of the "mass arrests and brute force" that accompanied the Sunni-ruled kingdom's crackdown on demonstrations for political reform led by the Shiite majority.

Instead, the Al-Watan daily highlighted Obama's emphasis on "partnership" with Bahrain, which is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet. Obama urged Bahrain in his speech to start dialogue with the opposition and release political prisoners.

"The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail," the US leader said.


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