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Barack Obama speech to set out new Middle East vision

Barack Obama speech to set out new Middle East vision

US President Barack Obama is to deliver a major speech setting out his vision of a new Middle East, after months of pro-democracy unrest in the region.

He is expected to announce aid packages to Egypt and Tunisia - countries that are embracing democratic reforms.

But Mr Obama is widely expected to defend new sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over Damascus's crackdown on protesters.

He is also due to touch on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

However, the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says that after two years of failing to restart talks, no-one expects Mr Obama to announce a new push for negotiations.

'Carrot and stick'

President Obama is scheduled to deliver his long-awaited speech at the state department in Washington at 1540 GMT.

It will be his first comprehensive response to the upheavals that have swept many Arabic countries this year.

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Mardell's America

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He will, presumably, try to set out a coherent narrative, an explanation of a strategy which hangs together"

Our correspondent says that following the death of al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, President Obama wants a new start with the Muslim world, although polls show opinions of the US are low.

Some details of the speech have been revealed in advance by senior administration officials.

Mr Obama will stress that Washington stands ready to help nations across the Middle East and North Africa to launch democratic reforms, modernise and provide job opportunities to millions of disenchanted young people.

He will argue that such measures will help democracy take hold and thrive and deliver the regional stability that is in the interests of the US government.

Egypt and Tunisia - where popular revolts overthrew long-standing rulers - are due to figure largely in the address.

Mr Obama is expected to write off part of Egypt's huge debt to the US to boost job-creation efforts. He is also expected to unveil an economic incentive package aimed at Tunisia.

In sharp contrast, Mr Obama is due to justify slapping sanctions on Syria's Mr Assad on Wednesday.

A US state department official said it was time for the Syrian president "to lead a political transition or to leave".

It was the first time Washington had personally penalised the Syrian leader over the actions of his security forces. More than 850 people have died since the uprising began in March.

On the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Mr Obama is expected to warn both sides that they face great risks by not coming together on a peace deal.

Mr Obama is set to meet visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.

Analysts say Mr Obama will try in his speech to convince his US audience that the fate of countries in the Middle East and North Africa is worth the money and effort even during difficult economic times at home.

To his wider audience, Mr Obama wants to underline that Washington stands behind those seeking greater human rights.

The BBC's North American editor Mark Mardell says Mr Obama faces the challenge of trying to set out a coherent US strategy for the region.

This is because Washington's reaction has varied wildly from place to place - from military action against Libya to a ticking off for Bahrain.

Posted on Thursday 19th May 2011

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