Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama's First Call to a Foreign Leader

...was Mahmud Abbas?

Astonishing. Here's the AP:

President Barack Obama plunged straight into the Middle East conflict on his first day in office calling the Palestinian president on Wednesday after the last Israeli soldier withdrew from Gaza.

Obama assured Mahmud Abbas that he intended "to work with him as partners to establish a durable peace in the region," the Palestinian leader's spokesman told AFP.

The new US leader told Abbas that the Palestinian president was the first foreign leader he called since taking office, said spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina.

"This is my first phone call to a foreign leader and I'm making it only hours after I took office," he quoted Obama as telling Abbas.

Obama and his secretary of state-designate Hillary Clinton had vowed to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict immediately after taking office.

There was no confirmation if Obama also called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, while a close Abbas aide admitted surprise at the speed with which Obama moved.

"We were not expecting such a quick call from President Obama but we knew how serious he is about the Palestinian problem," said Yasser Abed Rabbo.

During his inauguration speech Tuesday, Obama pledged a new approach to the Muslim world saying "we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

This is an incredible gesture. Yes, the fact that he's appointing George Mitchell as an envoy is also an important gesture, but the fact that this ultra-popular and ridiculously powerful incoming president chose Abbas is likely to send shockwaves throughout the Middle East.

(And throughout America. I'm already reading rumblings of discontent from those who aren't too thrilled with either the call or Mitchell.)

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