President Barack Obama on Monday hailed the nuclear deal with Iran as a triumph of diplomacy that had potentially averted war, but also called on Tehran to overhaul its foreign policy outlook and seek peace rather than foment violence. “Chanting ‘Death to America’ does not create jobs or make Iran more secure,” the US president said, in an address to the annual UN General Assembly in New York.
The president also called for a “managed transition away from [President Bashar] Assad into a new leader” in Syria, and vowed to defeat terrorism and extremism, in a speech that highlighted his belief in international cooperation as the only means to defeat conflict and create a better, safer world.
Strikingly, the president did not mention Israel or the Palestinians in his lengthy address — a marked contrast to previous years, when Obama has repeatedly used the UNGA forum to push for a two-state solution.
Noting that the United States “cannot solve the world’s problems alone,” Obama cited the ongoing instability in Iraq as proof that “hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops” and vast sums of money could not produce long-term calm. What was required, he said, was to “work with other nations under the mantle of international norms.”
But just as external power alone could not impose international order, so internal repression could not “forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed,” he said.
Obama argued that “dictatorships are unstable. The strong men of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow. You can jail your opponents but you can’t imprison ideas. You can try to control access to information but you cannot turn a lie into truth.” He said that the strength of nations “depends on the success of their people” and requires individual rights and good governance and internal security.”
He cited the July Iran deal as an example of the benefits of “cooperation over conflict.” For two years, he noted, “the United States and our partners, including Russia, including China, stuck together in complex negotiations. The result is a lasting, comprehensive deal that prevents in Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while allowing it to access peaceful energy.” If this deal is “fully implemented,” he said, “the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer.”
Now the Iranians should pursue a wider, inclusive peace, and “work cooperatively with countries beyond their borders,” he said, rather than continue to “deploy violent proxies to advance its interests. These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region, and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce,” Obama said.
“The Iranian people have a proud history and are filled with extraordinary potential. But chanting “Death to America” does not create jobs, or make Iran more secure,” he added. “If Iran chooses a different path, it would be better for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people, and good for the world.”
Turning to Syria, Obama castigated Assad as a dictator who has slaughtered tens of thousands of his own people. A “managed transition” of leadership was needed, so that Syria could rebuild. “Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing,” he lamented.
Obama said the United States is willing to work with Russia as well as Iran on the transition from Assad. Syria cannot “return to the pre-war status quo,” Obama declared.
On the threat of terrorism, Obama said, “There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIS.” He vowed to “go after them” and ensure “there will never be a safe haven for terrorists that carry out these crimes.” As the US’s ongoing battle with al-Qaeda demonstrated, he said, “we will not be outlasted by extremists.”
The world needed to reject islamic extremism, he said, while also criticizing non Muslims who equate Islam with terror.
Obama ended his address by highlighting the values of democracy. Catastrophes like the one in Syria don’t occur in genuine democracies, he said. “History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble.”
He hailed American democracy, noting that just outside the UN headquarters in New York, one can pass “churches and synagogues and temples and mosques where people worship freely.”
In America, he said, “everybody can contribute, everybody can participate no matter who they are or what they look like or who they love. that’s what makes us strong. And I believe that what is true for America is possible for all virtually all mature democracies.”