WASHINGTON - President Obama is confronting the wrenching change in the Middle East in a burst of diplomacy, hoping to save a crumbling peace process and addressing the Arab revolt country-by-country in a world now free of the menace of Osama bin Laden.
Opening a weeklong focus on the Mideast, Obama on Tuesday urged Israelis and Palestinians back to the bargaining table against growing odds. His broader narrative will be delivered in a speech Thursday, when he will make his pitch that a region long defined by division has its moment of opportunity because its people are rising up and risking their lives for change.
Speaking alongside Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday, Obama declared: "We both share the view that despite the many changes - or perhaps because of the many changes - that are taking place in the region, it's more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create two states that are living side by side in peace."
Yet his upbeat approach is being undermined by daily violence and by hardened positions that, in many ways, seem as unmovable as ever.
For the first time since uprisings began roaring across North Africa and the Middle East months ago, Obama will try to thread them together in way that is relevant at home and supportive of those seeking freedom abroad. He will do so amid questions about his consistency toward brutally repressive governments.
Put together, Obama's events this week show a president seeking to seize command of a Mideast agenda. He met with Abdullah on Tuesday, readied for Thursday's Mideast speech, looked to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and planned to address a prominent pro-Israel group on Sunday.
The speech will present Obama's impressions of changes that, as spokesman Jay Carney put it, have been more remarkable in the last five months than the last 50 years. On Sunday, Palestinians marched and tried to breach Israel's borders from the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, leading to deadly clashes.
Further complicating the situation are plans for a unity Palestinian government between Hamas in Gaza and a Fatah-dominated administration in the West Bank. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and others, and its charter calls for the destruction of Israel.
Despite the obstacles, Obama on Tuesday sought to set the tone. He said that given all the changes in the Mideast, it was vital for Israelis and Palestinians to get back to negotiating two side-by-side states. "The United States has an enormous stake in this," Obama said in pledging to try to foster a fair deal.
He will pursue that when he meets Netanyahu and speaks to an Israeli champion in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The president is also expected to discuss conditions in specific countries. But his main approach will be to explain to a world audience, and to a domestic electorate, how his government's approach is guided by support for human rights and political and economic reforms. Carney said Obama would offer new ideas about how the United States can help improve the lives of people in the region as well as U.S. security.
The speech is expected to be Obama's most comprehensive outline of the U.S. stand toward the Middle East since he famously called for a new beginning with the Muslim world in a June 2009 speech in Cairo.