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Nets Tout Obama's 'Historic' and 'Transformational' Speech in Cairo

The network evening newscasts on Thursday gave positive reviews to President Obama's speech in Cairo, with the NBC Nightly News the most glowingly positive with ABC giving the most attention to skeptics in the Muslim world. NBC focused on positive reactions to the speech, quoting one observer who got "goose pimples," and another who compared the speech to that of President Kennedy in Berlin. NBC's Andrea Mitchell seemed to have the most elevated expectations of what will result from Obama's speech. After acknowledging that Obama risked alienating Jews for his criticism of Israel, she suggested the "rewards" may be worth it: "That said, the reward is huge. This was a transformational speech potentially, by reaching out to the Islamic world, by using the language, as Richard pointed out, by saying "As-Salamu 'Alaykum," he has transformed the view of America among 1.5 billion people, and that is potentially the biggest, biggest benefit of all. This could change the Obama presidency." But ABC gave attention to Muslims who were skeptical.

All three made a point of characterizing Obama's use of the Arabic phrase "As-Salamu 'Alaykum," or, "Peace be with you," as a gesture that would greatly impress the Muslim world. CBS's Lara Logan talked about the "excitement" in Cairo over Obama's "historic" speech, and highlighted Obama's personal popularity there: "This is a first in Cairo - the name of an American President on T-shirts and souvenirs on sale here. It's a sign of Barack Obama's personal popularity and how much is resting on his shoulders."

But Logan also found reaction to the speech mixed and relayed the criticism of a Palestinian legislator affiliated with the terrorist group Hamas:

LARA LOGAN: Many in this region felt the President didn't go far enough in condemning Israeli violence against Palestinians.

MAHMOUD RAMAHI, HAMAS LEGISLATOR: Mr. Obama asked Hamas to stop the rockets. In the same moment, he didn't speak anything about 1,500 Palestinians killed in the last invasion of Israel in Gaza in 2009.

As for Obama's words about the war in Iraq, on CBS, Katie Couric found that Obama "defended the war in Afghanistan - but not in Iraq," while on NBC, by contrast, correspondent Chuck Todd contended that Obama "defended the war in Iraq, but acknowledged its divisiveness."

ABC's Gibson and Jake Tapper uniquely noted that while there were a number of times when the audience applauded Obama's words, the "silence was deafening" when Obama chided those who deny the Holocaust or who deal in 9/11 conspiracy theories:

CHARLES GIBSON: There were some applause lines at interesting times, and then there were times when the silence was deafening.

JAKE TAPPER: That's exactly right. When the President talked about how conspiracy theories - about 9/11, about the Holocaust - needed to stop, you could have heard a pin drop.

Below are transcripts of relevant portions of the Thursday, June 4, World News with Charles Gibson on ABC, the CBS Evening News, and the NBC Nightly News:

#From ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

CHARLES GIBSON, IN OPENING TEASER: Welcome to World News. Tonight, reaching out: President Obama in the Middle East makes an appeal for a new American relationship with the Muslim world based on mutual respect.

...

GIBSON: Good evening. The President acknowledged that no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust between the United States and the Muslim world. But he went to Egypt, he said, to make a start, and he started with a phrase in Arabic.

BARACK OBAMA: Asalaam Alaykum.

GIBSON: "Asalaam Alaykum," "Peace be with you." The President quoted the Koran, the Bible, the Torah. "God's vision of peace," he said, "must be our work here on Earth." We'll get reaction from the region to the speech, but we start with the speech itself.

OBAMA CLIP #1: So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sew hatred rather than peace.

OBAMA CLIP #2: I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. As the Holy Koran tells us, be conscious of God and speak always the truth.

GIBSON: The President talked of his personal history.

OBAMA: I'm a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. I consider part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. (APPLAUSE FROM AUDIENCE) But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (AUDIENCE STARTS APPLAUDING) Just as, just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.

GIBSON: He talked of conflicts, most prominently the Israelis and Palestinians.

OBAMA CLIP #1: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met, through two states where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (APPLAUSE FROM AUDIEMCE)

OBAMA CLIP #2: Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong, and it does not succeed.

OBAMA CLIP #3: At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

GIBSON: He touched on Afghanistan.

OBAMA: We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan, determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

GIBSON: And the President acknowledged there are skeptics.

OBAMA: I know there are many - Muslim and non-Muslim - who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division and to stand in the way of progress. There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward.

GIBSON: The President's speech today in Cairo. And our White House correspondent Jake Tapper is traveling with the President. I spoke to him shortly after the speech. Jake, the President said, no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, but how much did they want to do with this speech? And did they, did they feel it went well?

JAKE TAPPER: They do feel it went well. I guess the goal, you could say, would be to start the process of winning over hearts and minds in the Muslim world, getting Muslims to start thinking of areas of mutual interest with the United States.

GIBSON: I was very struck by how much he emphasized his Muslim connections, and how often he cited the Koran.

TAPPER: That's right. He invoked the Koran five times. He used a little bit of Arabic. He talked about generations of Muslims on his father's side. These are not things that one who is an American are used to hearing from the President, especially because during the campaign, there were so many ugly rumors about his religion. But he's speaking to a different audience now. He's not trying to appeal to soccer moms in Ohio. He's talking to 1.5 billion Muslims across the globe. A source close to the President told me that they think that President Obama, because of his unique heritage for an American President, has a unique opportunity to establish a common ground and create a, open a door of understanding. So, yes, the tenor and the tone of what the President is saying is markedly different from what he said as a candidate, but it is, of course, a different day.

GIBSON: There were some applause lines at interesting times, and then there were times when the silence was deafening.

TAPPER: That's exactly right. When the President talked about how conspiracy theories - about 9/11, about the Holocaust - needed to stop, you could have heard a pin drop. These were not applause lines, but as a source close to the President told me, he didn't give the speech to hear applause. He gave it to tell some tough truths and begin a dialogue. He had some tough things to say about Palestinian behavior, but he also - and this did invoke some applause from the audience - had some tough things to say about how the Israelis need to treat Palestinians better and stop their settlements.

GIBSON: Jake, this is a beginning, as the White House says. This is the start of what could be a long process and a dialogue they hope will start. What's next?

TAPPER: What's next, they say, is to continue the tangible work that's being done by special envoys to the Israeli-Palestinian area, George Mitchell, special envoy there, or the special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, what President Obama did today was throw down a challenge, and now the work needs to begin.

GIBSON: All right, Jake Tapper, thanks very much.

TAPPER: Thank you, Charlie.

GIBSON: Well, the White House went to great lengths to make sure the speech reached a wide audience. It was streamed live on the White House Web site, put on Facebook and Myspace, and translated into 13 different languages - including Arabic, Pashto and Indonesian. But how did his listeners respond to what they heard? Here's our senior foreign correspondent Jim Sciutto.

JIM SCIUTTO: From a tent city in Gaza to an Internet cafe in Baghdad to a tea house in Islamabad, Muslims around the world stopped and listened. At a Cairo cafe, we watched with the Samir family. Muhammad welcomed the President's words on Israel and Palestine. "He gave a practical plan, a two-state solution," he said. "He's not against the Arabs, and that's new." Injy liked his reference to women's rights. "He respects even women like me who wear the veil," she said, "and that impressed me." In Iran, though state TV didn't broadcast the speech, Mostafa watched on satellite and appreciated the President's emphasis on diplomacy. "Obama is not after war with us or the Muslim world," he said. "Instead, he's seeking friendship." Still, many Muslims we spoke with remain conflicted, believing that Barack Obama is offering a new American approach to the Muslim world, but waiting for proof, over time, that he'll deliver it. Here's what we heard in Dubai.

NAKHLE AL HAGE, AL ARABIYA TV NEWS DIRECTOR: Obama managed to say everything without promising anything.

SCIUTTO: So, in the West Bank, doubts about a Palestinian state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Speeches doesn't build states, doesn't end suffering.

SCIUTTO: And in Afghanistan, criticism of U.S. military action. "The Americans," he said, "should make sure innocent people don't get killed." Still, many of those who doubted the President's promises admired his tone. Even the militant groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza welcomed the change in language. Moderate Muslim politicians were impressed as well.

HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: We didn't expect that the speech would provide miraculous solutions for everything, but it sent a clear signal to the Arab world, to the Muslim majority countries, that this is a new era.

SCIUTTO: Egyptian student Injy, who was skeptical when we met her yesterday, was pleasantly surprised.

INJY: It's a lifetime opportunity. We should take advantage of Obama. We won't have this unique opportunity in the future.

SCIUTTO: An opportunity, some Muslims hope, for real change. Jim Sciutto, ABC News, Cairo.

#From the CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC, IN OPENING TEASER: Tonight, the President brings Muslims a message of peace.

BARACK OBAMA: As-Salamu 'Alaykum.

COURIC: -and a plea for better relations.

OBAMA: I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.

...

COURIC: Good evening, everyone. Who could have imagined this in the days and months after 9/11? An American President named Barack Hussein Obama, son of a Muslim, standing at the center of the Islamic world, quoting from the Koran, and extending a hand of friendship. In an extraordinary address in Cairo today, President Obama called for a new beginning in U.S. relations with Muslims, defended the war in Afghanistan - but not in Iraq - and said the attacks of 9/11 had led America, in some cases, to act contrary to our ideals. The President has flown on now to Germany where tomorrow he'll visit the concentration camp memorial at Buchenwald. Chip Reid is traveling with Mr. Obama and begins our coverage of his momentous speech.

CHIP REID: The President began with the Muslim greeting of peace-

BARACK OBAMA: As-Salamu 'Alaykum.

REID: -then explained why he feels so compelled to address the Muslim world.

OBAMA: I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.

REID: It's a theme he's thought and talked about for years, rooted in personal experience - experience he sometimes downplayed on the campaign trail.

OBAMA: I'm a Christian. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia, and heard the call of the Azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk.

REID: He called on Americans to abandon negative images of Muslims.

OBAMA: I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.

(APPLAUSE FROM AUDIENCE)

REID: And, calling for even-handedness, he asked Muslims to do the same.

OBAMA: Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.

REID: After the calls for unity, though, came the tough talk. He condemned extremist violence and defended the war in Afghanistan as a necessary response to 9/11.

OBAMA: But let us be clear - al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women, and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet, al-Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people.

REID: On Middle East peace, he was cheered for supporting the creation of a Palestinian state, and for condemning Israel's policy on settlements.

OBAMA CLIP #1: The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

(APPLAUSE FROM AUDIENCE)

OBAMA CLIP #2: This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.

(APPLAUSE FROM AUDIENCE)

REID: But, in one of the toughest lines in the speech, he lashed out at Palestinian violence.

OBAMA: It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children. Or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed. That's how it is surrendered.

REID: On issues from democracy to religious freedom to women's rights, the President criticized Muslim societies that deny basic freedoms.

OBAMA: And I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.

REID: Most of the speech was well received by the audience at Cairo University.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE VOICE FROM AUDIENCE SHOUTING: We love you!

OBAMA: Thank you.

REID: Despite all the hype, though, the President downplayed any short-term effects.

OBAMA CLIP #1: But change cannot happen overnight.

OBAMA CLIP #2: No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust.

REID: At 55 minutes, the speech was the President's longest yet, but amid all those words there was not a single specific new policy. Chip Reid, CBS News, Cairo.

COURIC: It was his longest speech, as Chip said, and it had potentially his largest audience - when you consider more than 100 million Muslims had access to it on radio, television, and, of course, on the Internet. Muslims, Arabs, Israelis - the speech had something for everyone, and it was about everyone. We go back now to Cairo and our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Lara Logan.

LARA LOGAN: President Obama's words were heard even here inside a tent in Gaza, this family living near the ruins of their home, destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. Israelis also gathered around televisions glued to every word. Obama's speech was no small event in the Middle East. From the coffee shops of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, across the Islamic world to Afghanistan, Pakistan, even Indonesia, Muslims everywhere listened.

BARACK OBAMA: Thank you very much. Thank you.

RABAB EL-MAHDI, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO: He's a star.

LOGAN: He's a star?

EL-MAHDI: There's an energy in the room that you, that you can feel. I don't know if you can feel it, but definitely I can.

LOGAN: The excitement was greatest on the streets of Cairo - not surprising since this ancient city is where he chose to deliver his address.

OBAMA: I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning.

LOGAN: This is a first in Cairo - the name of an American President on T-shirts and souvenirs on sale here. It's a sign of Barack Obama's personal popularity and how much is resting on his shoulders. That was reflected on TV channels that broadcasted live to millions across the Muslim world. The speech was big news, even leading the main evening bulletin in Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER'S VOICE: Barack Obama says U.S. strong bonds with Israel are unbreakable.

LOGAN: The reaction was mixed. Arab leaders, conspicuous by their absence, and it was no surprise that Obama's comments on Israel and the Palestinians dominated the discussions.

OBAMA: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.

LOGAN: Many in this region felt the President didn't go far enough in condemning Israeli violence against Palestinians.

MAHMOUD RAMAHI, HAMAS LEGISLATOR: Mr. Obama asked Hamas to stop the rockets. In the same moment, he didn't speak anything about 1,500 Palestinians killed in the last invasion of Israel in Gaza in 2009.

LOGAN: In Israel itself, the speech led all broadcasts with a sense of major change in the U.S. attitude towards its old ally, Israel no longer the favored son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER, THROUGH TRANSLATOR: There is no doubt, he offered things clearly, he offered things eloquently. They were perhaps a little bit naive. The question, of course, is to which point this vision is a realistic vision.

LOGAN: An Israeli government statement welcomed Obama's plea for peace but avoided any reference to his calls for a settlement freeze in the West Bank, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state - demands that Israel's hawkish prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, continues to reject.

SARA HASSAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO STUDENT: The statements that he said are very, very politically threatening, and he must be very, very honest and very realistic and very, um, strong to be able to say those things, and not be afraid of what's going to come next.

LOGAN: Dampening some of the enthusiasm for what is widely seen here as an historic speech, the fact that Obama's main allies in this region - like Egypt and Saudi Arabia - are oppressive regimes unpopular with many of their people. Katie?

#From the NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS, IN OPENING TEASER: On tonight's broadcast, sending a message to the Muslim world and beyond. From the heart of the Middle East, the President calls for a new beginning.

...

WILLIAMS: Good evening. Relations between the United States and the Muslim world have not been the same since September 11, 2001. Today President Obama gave a speech in the heart of the Muslim world to try to change that. He talked about being the Christian son of a Muslim father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas. He talked about his middle name, Hussein. He talked about hatred and violence and peace and respect. He said too much blood has been shed. And, as American Presidents go, this was a first. We have our team assembled to cover this story. We begin our coverage with our chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd, who's traveling with the President.

CHUCK TODD: It's a speech President Obama has been working on since before he was elected.

BARACK OBAMA: As-Salamu 'Alaykum.

TODD: And today at Cairo University, he outlined what he hopes is a framework for a new American relationship with the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.

OBAMA CLIP #1: I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

OBAMA CLIP #2: Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.

TODD: It was at times a history lesson.

OBAMA: Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco, in signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796.

TODD: He was blunt about recent history.

OBAMA: I'm aware that there are still some who would question or even justify the offense of 9/11, but let us be clear, al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody.

TODD: He defended the war in Iraq, but acknowledged its divisiveness.

OBAMA: Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.

TODD: And he stood firm on the war in Afghanistan.

OBAMA: We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.

TODD: The President used this speech to talk to three or four different audiences, including explaining Islam to Americans, explaining America to Muslims, and trying to jumpstart a conversation between Israelis and the Arab world. It was that last point, anxiously anticipated, which is likely to generate the most debate, the decades-old Arab/Israeli conflict. He invoked the Holocaust.

OBAMA: Six million Jews were killed, more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful.

TODD: And he described the Palestinian plight.

OBAMA: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable, and America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own. (APPLAUSE FROM AUDIENCE BEGINS)

TODD: And while he lectured the Palestinians about violence towards Israel, he held out a hand to Hamas.

OBAMA: Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.

TODD: The big question for the Obama White House is, now what? Administration officials acknowledge the speech was the easy part. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

HILLARY CLINTON: The President set forth a very clear challenge to us and to all in the world who share our hope of more peace and security, and, as he said, now we have to get to work to try to translate that into concrete action.

TODD: The President, hoping one day's applause turns into something more lasting. Chuck Todd, NBC News, Cairo.

TOM ASPELL: This is Tom Aspell in Cairo. Moments after his standing ovation, President Obama's audience screamed out, and a wave of positive reaction swept across the Islamic world. Newspaper editor Rania al-Maliki in the audience felt it.

RANIA AL-MALIKI: I was getting goose pimples every few minutes. I mean, he's extremely charismatic, and he's extremely well loved in Egypt.

ASPELL: The normally gridlocked Cairo streets were empty, and the cafes packed.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I think he said everything he wanted to say, and he puts a lot of hope in his speech.

ASPELL: Normally, you have to fight to be heard in any Cairo cafe, but today people are listening with rapt attention to what President Obama has to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I think his speech was at the same level that the speech that Kennedy did in Berlin, in which he said, "Ich bin ein Berliner."

ASPELL: The White House had made sure the speech was circulated in 13 languages so that nothing would be lost in translation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE TELEVISION REPORTER: Barack Obama called for a new beginning.

ASPELL: But, surprisingly, on broadcasters like Syrian TV, the President's speech received little criticism. And the same even on Hamas' hardline Al-Aqsa TV station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE TRANSLATOR ON AL-AQSA TV: Obama said the U.S. respects[s] the right of Palestinian people to have independent state.

ASPELL: Still, in Gaza, Palestinians left homeless by Israel's January war on the Gaza Strip were bitter. "Obama is saying that the Palestinian people and the Hamas government must recognize Israel," said Muhammad Kuda. "How can I recognize Israel when my house is demolished?" On the West Bank, Jewish settlers saw the President's warning that there can be no peace if settlement construction isn't stopped as ominous.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I think he's a great threat to Israel's security.

ASPELL: Back in Cairo, the morning papers have just hit the newsstands. The headline in Almasry Alyoum, Egypt's most popular paper, "Obama: The One We've Been Waiting For." Tom Aspell, NBC News, Cairo.

...

WILLIAMS: To Richard Engel in Kabul. You speak the local language. You were there today talking to people. How far out does this message radiate? Did it do what the White House wanted, in your view?

RICHARD ENGEL: I think it certainly did. A lot of people in Kabul and across the Islamic world simply had their mouths open when they were listening to this speech. They couldn't believe what they were hearing. They have not heard this kind of language from an American President. I was listening to it in Arabic, which was clearly the intended audience, in translation. And it sounded very good in Arabic. He used all of the key tools of Arabic rhetoric - flattery, history and Islam. The crowds here were very excited when he said "As-Salamu 'Alaykum," the traditional greeting, "Peace be with you." But there are serious challenges that remain. Just as Obama was speaking, three American soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack not far from Kabul. So the hot wars both in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to pose a challenge to his speech and his outreach program.

WILLIAMS: And, Andrea Mitchell at the State Department, you and I spoke by phone earlier about this speech. If you're Barack Obama, what are, as you see it, the risks and rewards of delivering that speech today?

ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, the risks, first of all, are alienating key constituency groups. There are people within the Jewish community who are going to feel that he is being too tough on Israel by taking such a hard line on the settlements because they have said to Israel they really want results on these settlements. That said, the reward is huge. This was a transformational speech potentially, by reaching out to the Islamic world, by using the language, as Richard pointed out, by saying "As-Salamu 'Alaykum," he has transformed the view of America among 1.5 billion people, and that is potentially the biggest, biggest benefit of all. This could change the Obama presidency.

- Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center