By Ray Fleming

W HEN President Obama spoke in Cairo two years ago his speech was clearly directed to the Muslim world. It was more difficult to tell who was the principal audience for his speech in Washington on Thursday. There was something for the countries of the Middle East, from encouragement for Egyptian reformists to warnings for Syrian oppressors, and indirectly there was quite a lot for the American people about their President's new-style global view.

Essentially, though, Mr Obama seemed to be speaking to Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, in a tone of voice and with a lack of diplomatic dressing that were new. For the first time an American president said specifically that the basis of any Israeli-Palestinian treaty must be the 1967 borders. Mr Netanyahu's response was immediate and angry, drawing attention to a 2004 letter from President Bush undertaking that Israel would never have to withdraw to the 1967 lines.

Yesterday Obama and Netanyahu held a pre-arranged meeting in Washington. On Sunday morning the president addresses the influential American-Israel Public Affairs Committee and on Tuesday Mr Netanyahu will address a joint meeting of Congress. Until all these events have taken place it will be impossible to judge whether the stalled peace process will move forwards or backwards. Too much has happened in the Middle East in recent months for a continuation of the deadlock to be an option.