The White House has picked Egypt as the stage for President Barack Obama's long promised speech to the Muslim world in which he is expected to outline a modified U.S. approach to the Middle East, officials said.
Egypt, a strong U.S. ally, was chosen for the June 4 speech because "it is a country that in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world," press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday.
During his campaign, and specifically in his inauguration speech, Obama pledged to re-engage the Muslim world after eight years of a Bush policy that relied heavily on force and threats in place of diplomacy and cooperation. The president had promised to make an Arab country the setting for a major speech on U.S. relations with Muslims.
In his inaugural address in January he told the Muslim world "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, who has been the subject of protests and criticism in the North African nation because of his crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrations, will meet with Obama later this month, the Washington Post reported. He has also taken heat from Egyptians for apparently grooming his unpopular son to take over leadership of the country.
It might make for an awkward sitdown. In its budget, the Obama administration has already approved aid for democracy groups in Egypt not authorized by Mubarak's regime. Bush had restricted such aid.
Gibbs sidestepped the question of whether Obama considers Egypt a democracy.
"The issues of democracy and human rights are things that are on the president's mind," Gibbs told reporters at the White House. "And we'll have a chance to discuss those in more depth on the trip."
The speech would not mark the first time Obama has reached out to the Muslim world. His first presidential interview was granted to an Arab language news outlet and in April, the president spoke before the Turkish parliament where he announced that the U.S. "is not and never will be at war with Islam."
"We seek broader engagement based upon mutual interest and mutual respect," Obama said in the speech to Turkey's parliament.
After the Cairo visit, Obama is scheduled to travel to Dresden, Germany, on June 5, where he will visit the Buchenwald concentration camp. A great-uncle of Obama's, Charlie Payne, helped liberate a sub-camp at Buchenwald in April 1945 as part of the 89th Infantry Division.
Obama is scheduled to arrive in France on June 6 to participate in events marking the 65th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.