JAKARTA (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Washington’s effort to reach out to the Muslim world was earnest and would help improve U.S. security, although he acknowledged that there was still more work to do.
Obama arrived on Tuesday on a twice-postponed trip to Indonesia, the world’s most populous majority-Muslim state. Before leaving on Wednesday, he plans a major speech reaching out to the Muslim world that would tout Indonesia as an example of an emerging democracy and tolerant society.
“With respect to outreach to the Muslim world, I think that our efforts have been earnest and sustained,” he said at a joint news conference with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“We don’t expect that we are going to completely eliminate some of the misunderstandings and mistrust that have developed over a long period of time, but we do think that we’re on the right path.”
Obama still enjoys strong support in Indonesia, even as confidence in him has dropped in other Muslim states since he made a first major speech in Cairo in June 2009 reaching out to the Muslim world.
The long U.S. wars in Muslim nations Afghanistan and Iraq have lost him support, and the lack of movement on peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which has also sapped his support.
Obama described a range of efforts the United States is making to reach out to Muslims, including education and business initiatives, such as a meeting Obama hosted this year that brought Muslim entrepreneurs from around the world to Washington.
“By broadening the relationship, that strengthens it, it builds trust, creates more people-to-people contact,” Obama said.
“That will be good for our security but it will also be good for the larger cause of understanding between the United States and the Muslim world. I think it’s an incomplete project we’ve got a lot more work to do. It’s not going to eliminate or replace some tough dialogue around concrete policy issues.
Obama was asked about one difficult policy issue at the news conference, Israel’s pushing ahead with plans to build 1,300 new apartments for Jewish families in Arab East Jerusalem, despite fierce opposition from Palestinians.
The announcement came just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the United States looking to revive Middle East peace talks that have stalled over the issue of Jewish settlement building.
Obama hosted Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington in September in hopes of restarting the talks.
Obama said activity like the apartment building could end up making the peace negotiations more difficult.
“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations. And I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough,” he said.
He said that peace efforts would continue. “It is in the interests of the people of Israel and it is in the interests of the Palestinian people to achieve that settlement, to achieve that breakthrough. But each of these incremental steps can end up breaking that trust between the parties,” Obama said.
Editing by Sugita Katyal