Al-Arabiya TV Gets Obama’s First Formal Interview

You can just hear the outrage machines revving up to make a big issue out of this one — but it is in fact a good and symbolic gesture if Obama is trying to reach out to Muslim countries and parts of their populations that had written the U.S. off:

As special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell heads off to the region to begin work on negotiating a cease fire between Israel and the Palestinians, President Obama has sat for his first formal TV interview with the Arabic cable TV network Al-Arabiya, ABC News has learned.

The interview was taped this evening and is set to air at 11 pm ET, as Mitchell is in the air and on his way to the region.

Based in Dubai, Al-Arabiya estimates that it has a potential audience exceeding 23 million in the Gulf region.

Reaching out means just that. If he in fact is trying to show that, as he said in his inaugural, he is open to talk to all sides, then it is a good move. The reason: by putting out an olive branch, Obama may be able to isolate more moderate forces in the Middle East and upset Al Qaeda even more than they are already by his election. Because he’s a new President with none of Bush’s hubris (in the eyes of many in the Middle East) he can talk directly to Al-Arabiya’s huge audience, which doesn’t have firm perceptions about him yet. On the other hand, Obama’s choice for his first formal interview could be viewed with distrust in Tel Aviv and among some in the U.S. Jewish community.