International

Once Again, Obama Faces 'Seemingly Irreconcilable Interests'

Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep writes about some of the questions that come to his mind after interviewing President Barack Obama at the White House Monday:

Michele Norris and I pressed the president on Israel, the latest subject on which Obama wants to reconcile seemingly irreconcilable interests. During his presidential campaign, he gave a speech on race in which he said that he could even accept his own white grandmother despite her bigoted statements. A few weeks ago he spoke about national security, and again tried to weave potentially conflicting interests, like the Constitution and fighting terrorism.

Now he wants to steer between Israel — America's staunch ally —- and Arab nations that are considered critical to the region's security. Obama's speech in Cairo this week might be the hardest task yet of seeking some elegant way to embrace opposing parties, and suggest that they can be on the same page — his page.

We got some hints of how he wants to approach the problem, and we expect to report further in the coming days.

He sat down with us knowing that Israel rejected his demand to stop building West Bank settlements. So what was his response? First, he tried to be understanding of Israel —- "well, I think it's still early in the process. They formed a government, what, a month ago?"

Later, he warned that his patience is not limitless —- "the United States has to follow through on what it says." He seemed to suggest that Israel may face consequences for defying America. Not now, but eventually. He didn't say what the consequences would be. But he said it's time to "be honest" about how he thinks Israel is damaging its own interests and America's.

That's all nuanced and subtle; but Israel doesn't yet seem willing to heed his demands. What now?

There's also the question of dealing with militant groups on Israel's flanks; Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Obama suggests that if Hezbollah wins elections in Lebanon this weekend, the U.S. might have to "engage" with Hezbollah —- in other words, talk to a militant group —- much as it is trying to engage Iran. What would that mean for Israel? What would it mean for America?

It's an intricate problem. The president approaches it knowing that all his maneuvering could be blown away by the next cataclysmic news from Iraq or Afghanistan, and the Muslim world's reaction to it.

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A camel-mounted police officer patrols near the Cheops pyramids in the Giza plateau today, in preparation for a possible visit by President Obama. Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images

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