Kerry lays out plans for improved U.S.-Muslim relations

Speaking in Qatar today, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) set forth plans for improving U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said he's working on plans to create a "long-term exchange program" between countries.

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"This will involve public-private partnerships—funded jointly by governments and companies so that Americans and citizens from Muslim-majority countries can work together in fields like science, journalism, business, arts, and culture," he told the U.S.-Islamic Forum, hosted by the Brookings Institute.

Kerry acknowledged, however, that difficulty in achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians remains a roadblock to improved relations.

Calling a two-state solution "the only workable solution," Kerry faulted Israel for continuing to build settlements, but also called on Gulf states to support Palestinian state building and take their own steps to improve relations with Israel.

"Building trust must be a step-by-step process, and the region must recognize Israel’s desire for acceptance and its fundamental need for security," Kerry said.

He also faulted the West for too often demonizing Islam.

"Too many in western societies implicitly, and at times explicitly, blamed an entire religion for the unholy violence of a few," Kerry said. "This left many Muslims angry and alienated and complicated the task for leaders in the region."

The Massachusetts Democrat said U.S.-Muslim ties have begun to improve since President Obama took office.

"We have witnessed a dramatic shift," Kerry said. "While expectations were perhaps too high that the world would change overnight, we know that his words and our subsequent actions were just the beginning of a long road."

In a videotaped message to the conference, President Obama announced a Special Envoy to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, a group of 57 members states that promote economic and political cooperaiton.