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Back in Indonesia, Obama reaches out to Muslims

President Barack Obama, standing by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, listens as the national anthems are played at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Tuesday.

Associated Press

President Barack Obama, standing by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, listens as the national anthems are played at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Tuesday.

JAKARTA, Indonesia — From the most populous Muslim nation on Earth, President Barack Obama reached out to the Islamic world, declaring that efforts to build trust and peace are showing promise but are still clearly "incomplete."

Obama delivered one of the most personal and potentially consequential speeches of his presidency, reflecting on his own years of upbringing in Indonesia and giving an update on America's "new beginning" with Muslims.

"I have made it clear that America is not and never will be at war with Islam," he said. "Those who want to build must not cede ground to terrorists who seek to destroy.

"Let me begin with a simple statement: Indonesia is part of me," he said in Indonesian during a speech at the University of Indonesia this morning.

He praised Indonesia for standing its ground against "violent extremism" and said: "All of us must defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates, who have no claim to be leaders of any religion. . . . This is not a task for America alone."

He had announced on Tuesday that his visit's intent was to give an update on America's "new beginning" with Muslims that he promised last year in Cairo.

Still, the path to lasting peace in the Middle East was hardly looking smooth. In fact, a reminder of that difficult road was waiting for Obama when he landed Tuesday. Israel's decision to build more apartments in East Jerusalem, a disputed territory claimed by Palestinians, had already earned a rebuke from American diplomats before a tired, traveling president weighed in himself.

"This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations," Obama said when questioned at a news conference alongside Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "I'm concerned that we're not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough. … Each of these incremental steps can end up breaking down trust."

The president, who is Christian, is eager to hold up Indonesia as a model: an overwhelmingly Muslim nation where other religions are respected freely and an evolving democracy is gaining strength despite a legacy of corruption.

On his visit Obama gave substantial attention to the new partnerships his government has reached with Indonesia's.

And he is talking freely about his time here, from age 6 to 10, when he was running around as a boy.

Obama reflected Tuesday on how Jakarta has changed since he lived here. His only real look came during a couple of motorcade rides.

"I feel great affection for the people here," Obama said. "And obviously, I have a sister who's half Indonesian. My mother lived and worked here for a long time. And so the sights and the sounds and the memories all feel very familiar."

The president drew smiles from the gathered dignitaries by speaking Indonesian.

"We have been waiting for so long," said Yudhoyono to Obama at a news event.

The two presidents touted a deal that will have both countries cooperating on energy, education, the environment and many other subjects.

More broadly, Indonesia offers the United States one more strategic, democratic voice in a continent of emerging powers and lucrative markets, while U.S. support can help Indonesia's own economy and regional security.

Back in Indonesia, Obama reaches out to Muslims 11/09/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:20pm]

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