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Obama starts well with Muslims but must do more

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A few years ago, I accompanied a group of CEOs from multinational media conglomerates on a visit to Turkey led by Henry Kissinger. Alcohol is banned in Islam. Yet at a gala dinner at his home, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the Islamist Justice and Development party, sat with his wife, whose head scarf is a controversial symbol of political Islam in Turkey, as waiters poured wine for the guests. Afterward, there was cognac. It was a vivid sign of this Islamist leader's non-dogmatic approach.

By visiting Prime Minister Erdogan, Obama is overtly reaching out to what Americans would call "moderate" Islamists. Going to non-Arab Turkey also appears to be an effort to separate US relations with Muslim countries from US policy toward the Arab world. The need for that is evident in a recent University of Maryland poll.

Half of all Indonesians and about 80 percent of Egyptians and Turks believe the goal of US policy is to expand Israel's borders. Few buy US claims that it supports a Palestinian state.

With Pakistan on the brink of collapse, Afghanistan soaking up American troops, and a plethora of challenges in the Muslim former Soviet republics, the US needs to find new issues of common cause with would-be allies – or at least intermediaries – in the Islamic world that surmount, or at least distract from, anger at US Middle East policy.

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