In first televised interview as president, Obama speaks with al-Arabiya
Stephen C. Webster
Published: Monday January 26, 2009

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UPDATE: Watch the interview at bottom

For his first, formal, televised interview as President of the United States, Barack Obama could have gone anywhere.

But instead of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS or any other major American outlet, he's spoken to al-Arabiya, the largest network news provider in the Arab world.

"All too often the United States starts by dictating -- in the past on some of these issues -- and we don't always know all the factors that are involved," Obama told al-Arabiya, as quoted by the Washington Post. "So let's listen. He's going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response."

Obama appears to be making a concerted effort to change perceptions of the United States among Arab-majority nations. One day after taking the Oath of Office, the president made his first foreign policy call. Instead of speaking with US allies, he went directly to the Palestinian leadership.

"Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect," he was quoted as saying. "I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries."

In Nov., a Zogby poll published by al-Arabiya found that across Arab-majority nations, enthusiasm for Obama is significantly lower than in Europe and Asia.

So low, in fact, a full 62 percent of poll respondents said that the US presidential election mattered not. No matter the outcome, most expected the new president to be closely aligned with Israel.

The new president's sitting in the Arab world also took a hit during the campaign, when aides prevented two Muslim women from appearing in a photograph because of their headscarves.

"The actions of these volunteers were unacceptable and in no way reflect any policy of my campaign," Obama said in a statement.

"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," President Obama said during his inaugural address.

The president's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, left for a whirlwind tour of the region on Monday night.

The following video was aired on CNN, Jan. 26, 2009.