The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

June 3, 2009

Walz optimistic about Mideast

Congressman says region excited about Obama

MANKATO — Congressman Tim Walz said his recent trip to the Middle East was informative, but people in the region are thinking Barack Obama’s visit — including his speech at Cairo University today — could be transformative.

“They’ve said every TV from Morocco to Indonesia will be on,” said Walz, who joined three Democratic senators for stops in Israel, Syria and Turkey last week. “There’s huge anticipation for this.”

Along with meeting the leaders of those three countries, Walz got a sense of what average people in the region are thinking. As in other parts of the world, there’s a strong fascination with Obama.

Among many in the Middle East, there was disbelief he would be elected after he stated a willingness to talk with leaders of even those Arab countries America had long considered enemies.

“They thought the system was rigged,” Walz said. “They thought there was no way that America would choose someone who wanted to engage.”

Obama will be attempting to start building a more constructive relationship between the United States and the 1.5-billion-strong Muslim world. And he is hoping to broker lasting peace between Israel, its neighboring countries and the Palestinian people.

That’s been a goal of his predecessors as well, but the Middle East is more optimistic it can happen, Walz said.

“The chance for peace is as great as it’s been in decades in the average person’s mind,” he said, and most of that is based simply on expectations related to Obama.

“The most popular man in the Middle East is Barack Obama,” Walz said. “Two years ago, it was Osama bin Laden.”

Making his first trip to the Middle East, Walz traveled with Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg. The delegation met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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