US secretary of state Hillary Clinton praised Arab youth for rising up against 'false narratives' [AFP]
Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, has urged Arab leaders to embrace the "spirit of reform" that has swept the region and move swiftly to respond to the growing demands of their citizens.
"The long Arab winter has begun to thaw," said Clinton on Tuesday, at the opening day of the US-Islamic World Forum being held in Washington.
She praised Arab youth for rising up against "false narratives" that she said had choked political and economic reform for generations.
"All the signs of progress we have seen in recent months will only be meaningful if more leaders in more places move faster and further to embrace this spirit of reform," she said.
Before an audience that included representatives of more than 30 Muslim nations, the top US diplomat said that "for the first time in decades there is a real opportunity for change" following the historic unrest in the region.
Arab youth, she added, will no longer "accept the status quo" and "know a better life is within reach - and they are willing to reach for it".
Officials from Muslim majority nations including Jordan, Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan are attending the annual meeting, which aims to build greater understanding between the United States and Muslim countries.
Earlier on Tuesday, while opening the forum, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), called for the United States to be more active in solving conflicts in the Muslim world.
Ihsanoglu called for a resumption of the Middle East peace process so that it can be the cornerstone of US-Muslim world relations.
He said that it was "high time" for talks to resume to find a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Middle East conflict dominates
Meanwhile, US senator John Kerry, called at the three-day forum for "anyone here who can intervene and play a role to do so" in reviving the peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Muslim officials insisted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains at the heart of relations between the United States and the Islamic world.
Even as the meeting opened in Washington, diplomats at the United Nations said the United States had blocked a bid to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process by not agreeing to a meeting in Berlin on Friday.
In that meeting, Britain, France and Germany wanted to outline a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We all know that if one wants to advance peace in the Middle East you don't put the Palestinian question on the back burner, you put it on the front burner, " the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told the AFP news agency.
"There has to be a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians."
Direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel collapsed last year.
In its eighth year, the forum is being held at a time of unprecedented change in the Arab world, with uprisings against autocratic leaders across the Middle East and North Africa.