ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Biden: Israel normalization delivering results amid ‘tireless’ 2-state solution push

Addressing UN, US president also touts commitment to stopping Iran from getting nukes; Guterres decries ‘escalating violence, bloodshed in the occupied Palestinian territory’

US President Joe Biden addresses the 78th UN General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP)
US President Joe Biden addresses the 78th UN General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 19, 2023. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP)

US President Joe Biden made a robust case before the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that the world must remain united in defending Ukraine against Russian aggression, warning that no nation can be secure if “we allow Ukraine to be carved up” as he tries to rally support for Kyiv’s effort to repel a nearly 19-month-old Russian invasion that has no end in sight.

Biden also used his address to the annual forum to make an impassioned case for peace and multilateralism, noting a series of decisions by his administration aimed at deepening involvement with multilateral forums, including rejoining UNESCO after his predecessor Donald Trump withdrew from the organization for its alleged anti-Israel bias.

“No nation can meet the challenges of today alone,” he said.

Biden called for forging “new partnerships,” before going on to tout a newly announced plan to connect India and Saudi Arabia to Europe via Jordan and Israel, which he said “will spur opportunities across two continents. This is part of our effort to build a more sustainable and integrated Middle East.”

“It demonstrates how Israel’s greater normalization and economic connections with its neighbors is delivering positive and practical impacts even as we continue to work tirelessly to support a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, two states for two people,” he added.

Biden then addressed the US push for Arab states to normalize relations with Israel, particularly Saudi Arabia, appearing to defend the effort despite the lack of progress on the Palestinian front.

“It demonstrates how Israel’s greater normalization and economic connections with its neighbors is delivering positive and practical impacts even as we continue to work tirelessly to support a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, two states for two people,” he said.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, left, and US President Joe Biden, right, shake hands next to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the day of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, September 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Pool)

Biden also referenced Iran, telling the UN that America is working with partners to address the Islamic Republic’s “destabilizing activities that threaten regional and global security.”

“We remain steadfast in our commitment that Iran must never acquire nuclear weapons,” he said in brief remarks on the topic.

He did mention diplomacy with Tehran, despite the completion of a prisoner swap deal the day before that also saw $6 billion in Iranian assets unfrozen.

Speaking ahead of Biden, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the assembled leaders to take united action on humanity’s huge challenges.

“Our world is becoming unhinged. Geopolitical tensions are rising. Global challenges are mounting. And we seem incapable of coming together to respond,” Guterres told the people who run the world’s nations. He said that the United Nations — and the ways that countries cooperate — must evolve to meet the era.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Among the issues highlighted by Guterres were the Israel-Palestinian conflict, with the UN chief lamenting a surge in violence over the past year and a half that has included a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops in the West Bank, near-nightly arrest raids by the military, and an uptick in revenge attacks by extremist Jewish settlers against Palestinians.

“In the Middle East, escalating violence and bloodshed in the occupied Palestinian territory is taking a terrible toll on civilians,” he said.

Guterres also warned that “unilateral actions are intensifying,” in apparent reference to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, “and undermining the possibility of a two-state solution, the only pathway to lasting peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to address the assembly on Friday while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will speak a day earlier.

Biden urges leaders to stand up to Russia’s ‘naked aggression’

In his speech, the US president called on world leaders to not let support for Ukraine diminish, arguing that Russia is counting on countries to grow tired of prolonged conflict in Kyiv which will “allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence.” Russia alone is standing in the way of a resolution, Biden argued, saying that Moscow’s price for peace was “Ukraine’s capitulation, Ukraine’s territory and Ukraine’s children.”

“I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the United States to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected?” Biden said in his address. “If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?

He continued: “I’d respectfully suggest the answer is no.” He implored the leaders to stand up to “this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.”

During his address, Biden described the partnerships that the US government was fostering around the globe — from Africa to the Indo-Pacific — that he said were creating economic and other advancements, even as he stressed that those relationships were not about “containing any country” — a clear reference to Beijing.

“When it comes to China, let me be clear and consistent,” Biden said. “We seek to responsibly manage the competition between our countries so it does not tip into conflict.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In his 30-minute address, the US president repeatedly emphasized the value of institutions such as the United Nations and international coalitions that have helped the world confront significant challenges such as poverty and disease, as well as echoing his defense of democracy, a common theme of his presidency.

“We will not retreat from the values that make us strong,” Biden said. “We will defend democracy — our best tool to meet the challenges that we face around the world. And we’re working to show how democracy can deliver in ways that matter to people’s lives.”

There were some notable absences as Biden made his case before the General Assembly: British Prime Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are all skipping the gathering.

For Biden, the more important audience for Tuesday’s speech could be closer to home as he looks to make the case to voters that he’s skillfully handled a complicated foreign policy agenda and that the experience that comes with age has proved to be an asset. It’s an argument that the 80-year-old president is likely to continue to make to try to counter skepticism — even in his own Democratic Party — among voters who are concerned about his age.

Biden’s message of unwavering support for Ukraine will play out as Congress is increasingly divided over providing additional funding for Kyiv.

Biden has sought a package of $13.1 billion in additional military aid for Ukraine and $8.5 billion for humanitarian support. But conservative Republican lawmakers have been pushing for broad federal spending cuts and some of those allied with Trump are specifically looking to stop money to Ukraine.

After the speech, Biden planned to meet with Guterres, as well as leaders from the so-called C5 group of Central Asian nations, which include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The meeting was expected to focus on regional security, trade, climate change, ongoing reforms to improve governance and other issues.

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