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In France, Obama erases the 'us vs. them' rhetoric

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PARIS – In France, by far the largest Muslim nation in Europe, Karim Emile Bitar watched the speech at his office near the Champs-Elysees.

His verdict? "Excellent.”

President Obama went “a long way toward overcoming all the ‘us vs. them’ rhetoric of the previous administration,” says Mr. Bitar, a Lebanese-French international relations specialist and president of the KB Consulting Group in Paris.

“My first reaction is how important it was for Obama to speak of moving past the Muslim nations as ‘proxies,’ as they were thought about during the cold war.

“But while this may have been public diplomacy at its best, one should remember that due to decades of mistrust, even America’s best rhetoric won’t make the Arab world rise to the occasion without consistent concrete initiatives and actions.

“On the Palestinian front, the language was the right language. Obama needed to mention the large and small humiliations suffered by Palestinians. But he did not clarify how we are going to get an end to settlement activity at a time when the Israeli right-wing is not interested at all in such a program. We don’t know how the new American approach is going to manage at a time of a new hard-line Israeli government.”

Speech was eagerly anticipated

Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of the Drancy mosque outside Paris, believes Obama began connecting with the Muslim world early in his speech with the simple religious greeting: “Salaam Aleikum.”

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