ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
We were interested in how President Bush's visit to the Gulf states is playing out in the Arab media. So we turned to Shibley Telhami. He's the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland.
Thanks for joining us.
Professor SHIBLEY TELHAMI (Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland; Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution): My pleasure.
SEABROOK: At the end of President Bush's speech, he directly addressed Palestinians, Israelis, Iraqis and Iranians in turn. And I wonder, how common is it for people living in the region to hear the entirety of Mr. Bush's speech versus just soundbites in the media?
Prof. TELHAMI: Actually, very common. In fact, really, since 9/11, even stations in the region that had been criticized for being not friendly to the U.S. had given the American voice a big airing. I mean, speeches, news conferences, important statements on the Middle East, throughout the Iraq war, pertaining to the Arab-Israeli issue, were covered. There is no shortage of hearing the American voice in the Middle East.
The problem is not that people don't hear it. They hear it. The problem is they don't trust it. They assess it in relation to their reality, and the reality is so substantially different as they see it from what they hear, that they've become more dismissive. And very often, in fact, those statements that they hear reinforce the biases.
SEABROOK: President Bush reiterated that he believes Iran to be the world's leading state sponsor of terror. In contrast, he praised the United Arab Emirates as a model Muslim state and spoke of rallying friends around the world to confront the danger of Iran before it is, quote, "too late." How does it play in the Arab media when President Bush publicly enlists Muslim states like this in a sort of us-against-them scenario?
Prof. TELHAMI: Well, first of all, you have to put that in some perspective. He is making the statement from the United Arab Emirates - a statement he made today, on Sunday. And the United Arab Emirates is popular in the Arab world as kind of a model of progress, not just because of Dubai, but because they're seen to have a little bit more freedom and economic development. So in some ways, the choice of the UAE is a good one. The problem for the president is that the Arab public, again, is much more dismissive of even the highlighting of the Iranian threat.
In polls that I conducted last year, when you ask Arabs: Name the two countries that pose the biggest threat to you, personally. The United States and Israel are on the list of nearly 80 percent of the public. Iran is only on the list of 10 percent. So most of the public sees the United States of America and the American presence is more threatening to them than Iran. So it's very hard if you're the president of the United States who, by the way, is also the most unpopular leader in the Arab world, according to the polls - even less popular than the prime minister of Israel. If you are making that statement and you are telling them Iran is a threat, how credible is that?
In many ways, when I read the president's words in the United Arab Emirates, I would have to believe that much of this is intended to address our own public -to project that the Gulf is on our side of this issue and to make a case for our public rather than for the Arab public.
SEABROOK: Shibley Telhami. He's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, specializing in American foreign policy and Middle East studies.
Thanks very much for speaking with us.
Prof. TELHAMI: My pleasure.
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