By Reid Wilson - 06/03/09 12:44 PM EDT
President Obama arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, early Wednesday for the first leg of a four-day trip that will take him through the Middle East and Europe.
Obama, who will give a major address on relations between the United States and the Islamic world Thursday in Cairo, Egypt, used a meeting with Saudi King Abdullah to begin laying the groundwork for what the administration hopes is a new relationship with the Muslim world.
Obama's visit began just hours after Osama bin Laden released an audiotape decrying the U.S. role in Pakistan, saying American actions sowed "new seeds of hatred" against the country. The message, aired on al-Jazeera, attacked Obama and issued vague threats against Americans in general, but included no specific threats.
The tape would be bin Laden's first public statement in years. He had gone underground to the point where many assumed the terrorist leader of al Qaeda had died. It also comes one day after bin Laden's chief aide, Ayman al-Zawahri, released his own tape.
"Let the American people prepare to harvest the crops of what the leaders of the White House plant in the next years and decades," bin Laden said, accusing Obama of "antagonizing Muslims" as President George W. Bush did with his plans to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan and efforts to get Pakistan to step up operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia, the home of the wealthy bin Laden family, called the tape an "act of desperation."
While in Riyadh, Obama and Abdullah were expected to discuss the Middle East peace plan, including the Arab Peace Initiative drafted by Saudi Arabia in 2002, and concerns about the Obama administration's outreach to Iran.
In the address, Obama's first in an Islamic country, the president "will discuss how the United States and Muslim communities around the world can bridge some of the differences that have divided them," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said last week. Obama "will review particular issues of concern, such as violent extremism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he will discuss new areas for partnership going forward that serve the mutual interests of our people."
On Friday, Obama will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany. There, he will visit the Buchenwald concentration camp, as well as wounded American troops at Landstuhl medical center.
The following day, June 6, Obama will mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day with a trilateral delegation including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The American delegation will include Charles Payne, Obama's great-uncle, who helped liberate a concentration camp in the final year of World War II.