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Obama offers aid to Mideast nations

Egypt to get $1 billion in debt relief

President Barack Obama on Thursday promised new aid to nations that embrace democracy while condemning attacks on demonstrators, notably in Libya and Syria.

In a speech meant to define U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa, Obama also announced $1 billion in debt relief for Egypt and another $1 billion in loan guarantees for both Egypt and Tunisia. 

According to the Washington Post, the president's address at the State Department on Thursday was "his first broad attempt to place the region’s wave of popular uprisings, which have swept away autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and threatened several others, in the context of American interests and values."

"Our message is simple: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States,” he said, Politico reports.

Referring to two leaders of the region deposed in popular uprisings in recent months—presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine e-Abidine Ben Ali—he said "more may follow" as people rise up to demand their basic rights.

He addressed the rebellions in Libya and Syria, noting that thousands of people would have been killed in Libya had the United States and its partners not acted militarily there.

On Syria, which he said had chosen the "path of murder and mass arrests," Obama said the government needed to stop shooting protestors, allow peaceful protests and stop unjust arrests. He called directly on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to either lead a transition to democracy or "get out the way."

"We know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history, and by faith," Obama said, ABC reports. "A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied." 

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Obama also denounced the "hypocrisy of the Iranian regime" and urged U.S. partner Bahrain "to engage in a dialogue" and "forge a just future for all Bahrainis."

Israeli-Palestinian peace process

He addressed the fraught Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying that a lasting peace was more urgent than ever. The president is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Friday.

"The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation," he said, according to the ABC. "The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." 

And he said that after years of war against al-Qaeda, the United States had dealt extremists a "huge blow" by killing Osama bin Laden — who he said was not a martyr, but rather a "mass murderer" — in a raid in Pakistan.

"In the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region," Obama reportedly said. "Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we will need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike. Our message is simple: If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States."

Aid to Egypt

A State Department fact sheet titled "Assistance to Egypt," outlined a series of initiatives that included better economic management, economic stability, economic modernization and reform, and a framework for trade integration and investment.

New funding initiatives will be managed by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, an independent U.S. government agency that mobilizes private capital around the world to advance U.S. foreign policy.

Obama said the United States had asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week's G-8 summit to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt.

Both Egypt and Syria suffer from high unemployment and economic inequality, structural problems which helped to provide a spark for their revolutions, Al Jazeera writes.

The Obama administration says its economic proposals, particularly the debt relief plan, will provide a quick source of cash for Cairo and Tunis.

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Obama's address comes days after days after Gen. Jim Jones, a former Obama national security adviser, suggested a new Marshall Plan for emerging democracies in the Middle East and Northern Africa—a reference to the strategy for revitalizing Europe led by the secretary of state under President Harry Truman, Army Gen. George C. Marshall.

The Marshall Plan "summoned broad international and U.S. investment in rebuilding the economies of a war-ravaged Europe and combating the spread of communism in the process," writes Susan Crabtree in Talking Points memo.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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Pete Souza/White House photo

President Barack Obama works as his motorcade arrives at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., on Wednesday. In a speech Thursday, Obama promised aid to troubled Middle East nations in exchange for democracy.

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