Clinton urges Arab leaders to move faster on reform

'Arab youth know a better life is within reach'

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday pushed for Arab leaders to embrace a "spirit of reform" that has swept the region and move swiftly to respond to the growing demands of their citizens.
"The long Arab winter has begun to thaw," said Clinton on the opening day of the US-Islamic World Forum being held in Washington, praising Arab youth for rising up against "false narratives" that she said had choked political and economic reform for generations.
"All the signs of progress we have seen in recent months will only be meaningful if more leaders in more places move faster and further to embrace this spirit of reform," she said.
Before an audience that included representatives of more than 30 Muslim nations, the top US diplomat said in the wake of historic unrest in the region that "for the first time in decades there is a real opportunity for change."
Arab youth, she added, will no longer "accept the status quo" and "know a better life is within reach - and they are willing to reach for it."
Earlier Tuesday, opening the forum, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called for the United States to be more active in solving conflicts in the Muslim world, including the long-running dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.
Calling on Washington to take a "more active role in seeking solutions to conflict-ridden situations in the Muslim world," Ihsanoglu pushed for a revived Middle East peace process to be the cornerstone of US-Muslim world relations.
The peace process "should take prevalence in relations between the United States and Muslim world," Ihsanoglu said, adding that it was "high time" for talks to resume to find a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.
US Senator John Kerry called at the three-day forum for "anyone here who can intervene and play a role to do so" in reviving the peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis.
Officials from Muslim majority nations including Jordan, Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan are in Washington for the annual meeting, which aims to build greater understanding between the United States and Muslim countries.
In its eighth year, the forum is being held at a time of unprecedented change in the Arab world, with uprisings against autocratic leaders across the Middle East and North Africa, officials said.
Muslim officials insisted, however, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains at the heart of relations between the United States and the Islamic world.
Even as the meeting opened in Washington, diplomats at the United Nations said Washington had blocked a bid to break the deadlock in the Middle East peace process by not agreeing to a meeting in Berlin on Friday where Britain, France and Germany wanted to outline a settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
"We all know that if one wants to advance peace in the Middle East you don't put the Palestinian question on the back burner, you put it on the front burner. There has to be a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians," the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said.
Direct peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel collapsed last year.