(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. must address the Arab-Israeli conflict before it can be trusted by people in the Middle East, a pollster and Arab American leader said Thursday, citing data indicating that opinions of the U.S. in the region, already low, are dropping further.
The argument echoes key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), which in its recent report sought to link a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict to stability in Iraq and the region.
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and senior analyst at Zogby International, said a new poll showed that "overall attitudes towards America have worsened."
"In some countries they stay stable," he told a press conference in Washington, D.C.
Respondents in five countries - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon - were asked questions including one asking whether their attitude towards the U.S. was in general favorable or unfavorable.
Zogby said the favorable figures for Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which were low when an earlier poll was taken in 2002, remained low.
In two other countries, Morocco and Jordan, the numbers had dropped the 30-plus favorable range in 2002 to single digits, a change he called "very worrisome."
The figures were Saudi Arabia (82 percent unfavorable, 12 percent favorable), Egypt (83 unfavorable, 14 favorable), Morocco (87 unfavorable, seven favorable), Jordan (90 unfavorable, five favorable) and Lebanon (68 unfavorable, 28 favorable).
"Attitudes toward American values, people and culture have also declined," Zogby said. "American culture is the only thing holding the numbers up, but as we see from the numbers, that has taken a hit too."
He linked the findings to the report by the ISG, a bipartisan panel headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton.
"What this poll says to me is Baker/Hamilton are right," he said. "If America wants to salvage itself and improve its standing and get the credibility and legitimacy it needs to lead in Iraq, it needs to do something to gain the trust of allies in the broader region."
To regain the trust of people in the Middle East, the United States must address the Arab-Israeli conflict, he argued. According to the poll, approval ratings of the United States' Palestinian policy range from 20 percent of people having a positive opinion in Egypt to four percent in Saudi Arabia.
"If you want people to work with you, you have to address the issues of concern to them. These are the issues of concern to them, and it's hurting us. You cannot lead when your numbers are this bad," Zogby said.
He added that trust is necessary to build allies in the region, particularly to deal with a nuclear Iran.
"You would have to be smoking something to think you're going to build a U.S.-Saudi-Jordanian-Gulf Arab state-Egyptian-Israeli relationship against Iran," Zogby said. "It is a bizarre concept at best. And at worst ... it only strengthens Iran."
Joshua Block, a spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said the threats facing moderate Arab states were not related to Israel.
"Iran's extremism - its support for terrorists like Hamas and Hizballah, its nurturing of extremist movements whose aim is to replace moderate regimes with allied Islamic radicals, its support for Shi'ite extremists in Iraq and across the Middle East - will only worsen if Iran is armed with a nuclear bomb," he told Cybercast News Service.
"Those threats have nothing to do with the Arab refusal to recognize or make peace with Israel," Block said. "But they do suggest that allowing the invocation of such red herrings to avoid confronting a threatening Iran is bad for everyone."
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