U.S. President Barack Obama has used the occasion of his presence in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, to address the issue of U.S. relations with the Islamic world.
Speaking to an enthusiastic audience mainly of students at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, Obama acknowledged that despite some progress since he took office, relations with the Islamic world remain troubled.
But he urged all sides to move beyond what he called "suspicion and mistrust" generated over many years to forge a common front against terrorism.
"We have made some progress, but we have much more work to do," Obama said. "Innocent civilians in America, in Indonesia, and across the world are still targeted by violent extremism. I've made it clear that America is not and never will be at war with Islam. Instead, all of us must work together to defeat Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, who have no claim to be leaders of any religion -- certainly not a great, world religion like Islam. But those who want to build must not cede ground to terrorists who seek to destroy. This is not a task for America alone."
His remarks come 17 months after his groundbreaking address on the same theme in Cairo, in which he envisaged a "new beginning" in U.S.-Muslim relations.
In an apparent acknowledgement that not all the hopes of that time have been fulfilled, he said one speech alone cannot eradicate years of antagonism.
This time, however, his remarks contained an element of challenge: the Muslim world itself must stand up to the militants, not rely on the United States alone. And he thrust Indonesia forward as an example to the rest of the Islamic world.
He described Indonesia as an emerging democracy working to develop its economy and a Muslim nation that is tolerant of other religions. He compared the last-named virtue to that of the United States, saying: "We are two nations which have traveled different paths. Yet our nations show that hundreds of millions who hold different beliefs can be united in freedom under one flag."
In the year and a half since the Cairo speech, Obama has lost much of the popularity he enjoyed in the Muslim world after his election.
In an analysis carried by the Washington-based "Foreign Policy" journal, James Glassman and Juan Zarate write that "clearly, Arabs especially have been disillusioned by Obama’s inability to make headway toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and by what they perceive as continuity between [former President George W.] Bush’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and those of the current White House."
In his speech today, Obama admitted that the Middle East peace process is continuing to face "enormous obstacles," but he vowed persistence.
"In the Middle East, we have faced false starts and setbacks, but we have been persistent in our pursuit of peace," he said. "Israelis and Palestinians restarted direct talks, but enormous obstacles remain. There should be no illusions that peace and security will come easy. But let there be no doubt: America will spare no effort in working for the outcome that is just, and that is in the interest of all the parties involved -- two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. That is our goal."
Earlier today in Jakarta, Obama visited the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia.
He has now arrived in the South Korean capital, Seoul, where he will attend the G20 summit of leading developed and developing nations.
written by Breffni O'Rourke, with agency reports