Obama hosts Muslim entrepreneurs

Summit in US capital aimed at building on outreach effort launched in Cairo last June.

    The US president has renewed his commitment to a "new beginning" with the Muslim world, vowing no easing in US efforts to promote Middle East peace, curb violence and boost economic development.

    Seeking to build on his outreach to Muslims in a speech in Cairo last June, Barack Obama has used the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship - a US-hosted Muslim business conference - to underscore what his administration has done so far and to pledge further work to overcome mistrust.

    While Obama has made progress towards mending America's image in the Islamic world, he still faces stiff challenges in his handling of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the nuclear standoff with Iran and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    "I knew that this vision would not be fulfilled in a single year, or even several. But I knew we had to begin and that all of us have responsibilities to fulfill," Obama told the gathering of 250 business people from more than 50 countries in Washington DC on Monday.

    Business development

    The focus on business development marked the Obama administration's strategy of trying to broaden the conversation with Muslims beyond the "war on terrorism" that dominated the George Bush-era approach and alienated many.

    Obama announced a series of efforts, including exchange programmes for women in technology and for high tech leaders from Silicon Valley to share their expertise.

    He said his global technology and innovation fund would "potentially mobilise" more than $2bn in private capital.

    Participants in the summit's sessions include Gary Locke, the US commerce secretary; Hillary Clinton, secretary of state; Arne Dunca, education secretary; and other senior US officials.

    The private sector is being represented by Jerry Yang, Yahoo! co-founder; Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank; and Arif Naqvi, head of Abraaj Capital, the largest private-equity firm in the Middle East.

    In his speech, Obama also waded into some of the contentious issues that he acknowledged "have often been a source of tension".

    Many Muslims are especially disappointed by Obama's failure so far to advance Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking despite promising in his first days in office to make it a high priority.

    Stalled peace talks

    Obama assured his audience he would not abandon US diplomatic efforts, which have been stalled by a dispute with Israel over Jewish settlement building and divisions among the Palestinians.

    "Despite the inevitable difficulties, so long as I am president, the United States will never waver in our pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians," he said.

    But he offered no new initiative to revive the talks.

    Obama also asserted that the US was "responsibly ending" the war in Iraq and "in Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond, we're forging new partnerships to isolate violent extremists, combat corruption and foster the development that improves lives and communities."

    Clovis Maksoud, former Arab League ambassador to the UN, said Muslims and Arabs are receptive to Obama's overtures.

    "The Arabs feel, at least, that all sorts of initiatives might have certain positive results," he told Al Jazeera.

    However, as long as the Palestinian-Israeli issue remains unresolved, it will "hang on as a weight on possibilities", Maksoud said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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