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President Obama is in Saudi Arabia tonight on the eve of his much promoted speech in Cairo. In a few minutes we'll hear from two writers - one Egyptian, one Pakistani - on what they're expecting from the speech. First, a report from NPR's Don Gonyea on today's meeting between President Obama and Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh.
DON GONYEA: There has been much anticipation here about Mr. Obama's first trip as president to the heart of the Middle East. He emerged through the doorway of Air Force One, stepped out into the suffocating mid-afternoon heat and was greeted by his host, Saudi Arabia's 84-year-old King Abdullah. Then it was a short ride to the king's farm for meetings, where the short photo opportunity belied the difficulty of the issues they would discuss.
President BARACK OBAMA: This is my first visit to Saudi Arabia. But I've had several conversations with his majesty, and I've been struck by his wisdom…
Unidentified Man: Media, thank you.
Pres. OBAMA: …and his graciousness.
GONYEA: The president then added…
Pres. OBAMA: I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began, and to seek his majesty's counsel and to discuss with him many of the issues that we confront, here in the Middle East.
GONYEA: King Abdullah, meanwhile, spoke of the long-standing, quote, "historic and strategic ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia," going back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Speaking through an interpreter, he praised the new U.S. president.
Unidentified Man: I also want to express my best wishes to the friendly American people, who are represented by a distinguished man, who deserves to be in this position.
GONYEA: White House officials say the two men discussed the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but Mr. Obama's spokesman would not discuss the degree to which the president pressed for Arab states to take strong initial steps as a show of good faith to Israel. Also on the agenda was Iran, which the U.S. fears is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. The Saudis worry about an arms race in the region, but there are also concerns that U.S. diplomatic overtures to Tehran could make Iran stronger at the expense of the Saudis.
Shortly after the president arrived in Riyadh, the Al-Jazeera television network aired a tape message said to be a recording of Osama bin Laden. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reacted.
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Press Secretary, White House): I don't think it's surprising that al-Qaida would want to shift attention away from the president's historic efforts to reach out and have an open dialogue with the Muslim world.
GONYEA: Tomorrow is the president's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. He says he'll address misconceptions the U.S. and Muslims have about each other. He'll talk about U.S. missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, about terrorism and Islamist extremists and about the U.S. image among Muslims. Here is Senior White House Advisor David Axelrod.
Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Senior White House Advisor): There's been a breach - an undeniable breach - between America and the Islamic world, and that breach has been years in the making. It's not going to be reversed with one speech. It's not going to be reversed, perhaps, in one administration, but the president is a strong believer in open, honest dialogue.
GONYEA: The White House is trying to build a huge audience for this speech around the world. The State Department has a sign-up form to have it text-messaged to cell phones in any of four languages. Social networking sites, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are being used. The speech will be posted on the Web in video and in text in 13 different languages.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Riyadh.
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