Obama Delivers Long-Promised Speech

President Obama is in Cairo, Egypt, after spending a day in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah. The president delivered a major address at Cairo University, where he hopes to bolster relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Here's the story we'll be following throughout the morning. President Obama today delivers one of the most important speeches of his young administration. It's taking place in Cairo. And in a moment we'll talk about how that Egyptian city is preparing. The president wants to reach out to the Arab world today. And he wants to deal with its strained relations with America.

NPR's Don Gonyea is traveling with the president. He's in Cairo. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA: Hi there.

INSKEEP: So what does the president hope to accomplish by reaching out to the Muslim or the Arab world?

GONYEA: Well, the president has been talking about giving this speech, Steve, literally since the campaign. It was initially promised during his first 100 days. Logistically, they couldn't just work that out. Here we're some four and a half months into the Obama administration and he's here in Cairo. And the way the administration describes this is really a chance to kind of hit the reset button on U.S. relations with the Muslim world. They - they talk about how the Iraq war and those photos out of the Abu Ghraib prison and plenty of other things have really caused a very serious breach in U.S.- Muslim relations.

And the president, frankly, says that there are a lot of misconceptions that the West has about Muslims and that Muslims have about the U.S. and the West, and it's time to start having an honest, real dialogue where they can start getting to some of the things that they have in common. And he said those, by far, outweigh the differences.

INSKEEP: Why begin that dialogue in Cairo?

GONYEA: Well, Cairo is certainly the cultural center here in Egypt. Egypt is a very important strategic partner of the U.S. - those are the words that the president uses. It is, of course, a country that has significant issues in terms of democracy and human rights. The president says he will address some of those things, head on, in the speech. They call it a truth selling portion of the speech. It's going to be reaching out to the Muslim world. But again being somewhat blunt in the president's language, at least that's what we're led to believe.

INSKEEP: Don Gonyea is traveling with the president. And Don obviously the president will be speaking to an audience at a university in Cairo. Clips of his speech will be played around the world. But what else is the White House doing to make sure that his, no doubt rather lengthy and carefully reasoned, speech gets out to people?

GONYEA: Well, it's estimated that there are, you know, roughly 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, and the White House wants to make sure that as many of them can hear this speech as possible. For example, they can go to the State Department Web site. And there's a place to sign up there where as soon as the speech is done they can get a text message of the transcript of the speech sent to their cell phone or their BlackBerry in one of four languages - in English, in Arabic, in Persian or in Urdu. Also, they're using social networking sites -Facebook, MySpace, Twitter. And they'll be live streaming of the speech itself. And the speech will be available in 13 different languages on various Web sites like that.

And so what we're seeing is the kind of high-tech stuff that the Obama campaign did throughout 2008 applied to really getting the word out this - this very important speech.

INSKEEP: Don, what does Cairo itself look like to you as you've moved around and have they thrown out the welcome to the president in some way?

GONYEA: There was certainly, you know, a very warm welcome, an official ceremony at the airport today when the president arrived this morning. He went to the palace. And he had a one-on-one meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But I can tell you the streets are relatively deserted. There was not a lot of traffic as we made the roughly 10-mile drive from our hotel to Cairo University here. There are some protests on the perimeter of the university. But mostly it seems like a pretty quiet day here given what's going on.

INSKEEP: And we'll hear more in just a second about the scene in Egypt right now, but you mentioned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. And that touches an awkward subject because this is an undemocratic leader who's been in power for decades. But a leader that the president felt constrained to praise as a man of long experience when he met him.

GONYEA: And the president is very much aware of President Mubarak's record. What we're told is that Mr. Obama will not shy away from direct criticism of the Muslim world. And make the case that they really do need to do far more to promote democracy and in the area of human rights. So we will hear that in the speech today, we're told.

INSKEEP: NPR's Don Gonyea is in Cairo. Don thanks.

GONYEA: Thank you.

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