Obama sets Muslim outreach for Indonesia trip

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama will visit Indonesia’s largest mosque and make a major outdoor speech directed at the global Muslim community when he visits Indonesia next month, the White House said on Thursday.

Obama leaves on November 5 on a 10-day trip to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. On November 10 in Jakarta, Obama will visit the Istiqlal Mosque, and then make his speech from another, outdoor location, where there could be a large crowd.

“He’ll have a chance to talk about the partnership that we’re building with Indonesia, but also to talk about some of the themes of democracy and development and our outreach to Muslim communities around the world,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told a news conference.

First lady Michelle Obama is also going to Jakarta.

The U.S. president was due to travel to Indonesia in March and in June, but put off the visit each time because of domestic political concerns, which disappointed and angered some Indonesians.

But Obama remains popular in the world’s most populous Muslim country, where he spent four years while growing up, even as confidence in him has dropped in other Muslim states since he made a major speech in Cairo in June 2009 seeking a new beginning with the Islamic world.

Obama also will announce a new “comprehensive partnership” with Indonesia on security, economic and people-to-people issues, said Jeffrey Bader, the president’s top Asian adviser.

He will talk about the partnership in the speech, but also Indonesia’s rise as a democracy and emerging economy, close relationship with the United States and pluralism.

“Visiting this mosque and in his speech, I think he’ll have the opportunity to underscore the themes that he’s made in terms of outreach to Muslim communities around the world,” Rhodes told the news conference.

Obama had been expected to visit another major religious site during his Asian tour, the Sikh Golden Temple in the northern Indian city of Amritsar. Indian media reports said the visit was canceled after aides balked at the idea of the U.S. president wearing the scarf or skullcap required at the site.

Obama is a Christian but faces persistent talk among some members of the U.S. public that he is a Muslim and, the reports said, aides feared pictures of him wearing such headgear could fuel such rumors.

Administration officials said scheduling, not headgear, concerns were the reason Obama is not visiting Amritsar.

Obama often includes cultural stops while traveling outside the United States and has visited mosques before while traveling in Muslim-majority countries.

The U.S. leader’s popularity in the Muslim world has dropped since the Cairo speech as the United States has continued to wage war in Muslim nations Afghanistan and Iraq and there has been little movement on peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

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