Beirut: An influential Lebanese Shiite cleric said on Friday that President Barack Obama's outreach to the Arab and Islamic worlds has failed to improve ties strained under George W. Bush, warning that the United States was sliding back toward the policies of the previous administration.
Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah's criticism in a Friday prayer sermon in the militant Hezbollah stronghold of south Beirut contrasted with his conciliatory tone a few months ago and underlined a growing impatience with Obama.
A frequent critic of Bush, Fadlallah said in an interview with The Associated Press in April that he believes Obama is sincere in trying to improve what the cleric called America's "ugly image" in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Fadlallah on Friday urged the Obama administration to change tactics in its attempts to improve ties with the region, warning that anti-American sentiment is rising.
"The US administration is gradually regaining its previous image under the Bush administration by dealing with Iran's nuclear issue in a way that ensures permanent support for the Israeli entity, which pays no heed to all international laws, particularly those related to the acquisition of nuclear weapons," Fadlallah told worshippers.
Since he took office in January, Obama has reached out to Iran in speeches and said his administration is willing to negotiate directly with Iran over its nuclear program, reversing his predecessor's policy of seeking to isolate the country. Obama also has reached out to Syria, which the Bush administration shunned because of its support for militant groups.
Obama has supported a Palestinian state as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and called for a halt to Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank. He has sent his special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, to the region several times in a bid to promote a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement.
"We tell the Americans who come to occupied Jerusalem to reassure the (Israeli) enemy ... that within a limited period of time you have almost foiled all the objectives which your president tried to achieve in his calculated speeches to the Arab and Muslim worlds," Fadlallah said.
Fadlallah, 73, is considered the main religious authority for Lebanon's estimated 1.2 million Shiites, the country's largest sect, and has followers throughout the Middle East. He's a former spiritual guide to the Iranian-backed militant Hezbollah group and is still influential with many Shiite militants.