"The thing that we can do most importantly is serve as a good role model," he told BBC television in an interview on the eve of a trip to Europe and Egypt, where he plans to deliver a much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world. He said he hoped his visit would begin a new relationship between America and the wider Muslim community.
"Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries -- but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity," Obama said. He said the danger was when the United States or any other country thought they could impose these values on another country with different histories and cultures.
"(But) absolutely you can encourage and I expect we will be encouraging," he added.
Asked whether he regarded Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose country Amnesty International claims holds thousands of political prisoners, as "authoritarian," Obama said: "I tend not to use labels for folks.
"I haven't met him, I've spoken to him on the phone," Obama added. "He has been a stalwart ally, in many respects, to the United States. He has sustained peace with Israel, which is a very difficult thing to do in that region." Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's defiance of Obama's call for a settlement freeze, the president said: "it's still early in the conversation."
He noted he had only met Netanyahu once, at the White House in May.
"I think we have not seen a set of potential gestures from other Arab states, or from the Palestinians, that might deal with some of the Israeli concerns," he said.