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How far will Obama's words of respect carry US-Muslim relations?

A new tone can defuse 'residual anger' among Muslims over the Iraq war, but it's likely to hit its limits in dealing with Iran.

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President Obama's speech from Cairo University Thursday set a new tone of respect and common purpose in US-Muslim relations. Now comes the testing time for how far a change of tone can actually carry the US toward improved standing in the Muslim world or toward new avenues to addressing old problems.

For years after the 9/11 attacks, much of the world scolded America over the tone of the Bush administration, saying it had soured relations between Islam and America and had thwarted progress on everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Middle East democratization. Mr. Obama, in using a different vocabulary and by reaching out directly to the Muslim populace, is testing that assertion.

"We heard a great deal from sectors as varied as the leaders in Muslim countries to the man in the street that the tone of the Bush administration was a real barrier in improving America's image and in addressing some of the issues of critical importance to the United States," says Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "President Obama is very much intent on setting a different tone and, by an articulation of that and expressing a commonality of interests, seeing how far that gets us."


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