Obama's Mideast Policy Examined

Richard Holbrooke has been named special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and George Mitchell has been picked to be special envoy for Middle East affairs. Rami Khouri, editor at large of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon, and director for the Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs, weighs in.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

President Obama and Secretary Clinton wasted no time putting their firm stamp on the State Department. Two days after the president's inauguration and a day after Secretary Clinton's confirmation, they announced the appointments of Richard Holbrooke as special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and George Mitchell as special envoy for Middle East affairs. Both men are seasoned diplomats who have brokered peace deals around the world.

Joining us to talk about the new administration's approach to the Middle East is Rami Khouri. He's the editor-at-large of the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut. He joins us from Dubai. Mr. Khouri, welcome back to the program.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Editor-at-Large, Daily Star Newspaper) Thank you. Glad to be with you.

HANSEN: How were the appointments of Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Mitchell received there in the region?

Mr. KHOURI: Generally, I think they were well-received. People have a lot of respect for Mitchell, especially. They know him more than they know Holbrooke. But they have - there's generally good respect for him and more importantly, the clear, direct support of the president, the fast way that Obama addressed this issue - his second day in office, all of these are things that make people, I think, broadly speaking, look at this process with a little bit of hope and expectation.

HANSEN: In his inaugural address this past Tuesday, President Obama promised to engage the Muslim world. Do you have any idea how Muslims are interpreting that statement?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, the fact that he just mentioned it is something that, again, is broadly well-received. I think that he announced that this is something he wants to do is good, better than, you know, saying we're going to change regimes and force you to change your systems and do all these other things by compulsion or force - that Bush had been doing or talking about. But these are just - this is at the level of rhetoric. What he did in the Middle East is take it to the level of action and policy, and that's how he's going to be judged in the end.

HANSEN: So what is the impression of the new secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in the Middle East and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region?

Mr. KHOURI: You know, it's too early to make any kind of judgment because she hasn't really done anything yet. Her statements and her hearings for the congressional confirmation didn't give away very much. We have to wait until they actually implement policies on the ground to be able to judge them.

I don't think people put that much emphasis on Clinton as such because they know that the policy direction is going to come from President Obama and the convergence of the special-interest groups in Washington. So I think the critical thing is Obama's personal engagement. And he's positioning the U.S., I think, to become a little bit more even-handed because he knows that only an even-handed mediator will be a successful mediator, and we are seeing signs of that as well.

HANSEN: Rami Khouri is editor-at-large for the Daily Star. He joined us from Dubai. Thanks very much.

Mr. KHOURI: My pleasure.

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