US President Barack Obama has been addressing the UN General Assembly, in a speech centered on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the Syrian civil war, and the imperative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Obama: Can UN meet the tests of our time?
Obama starts out by saying: We face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested. The question is… whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.
Obama moves quickly to speak about the convulsions in the Middle East.
Now he turns to Syria.
Obama: 98% of humanity backs ban on chemical weapons
He says the peace process in Syria is stillborn.
He cites the August 21 chemical weapons attack by the regime.
He asks: “What’s the role of force” and of the UN and international law “in meeting cries for justice?”
The international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons.
His threat of military intervention was not made lightly, he says.
98% of humanity backs ban on chemical weapons, he notes.
Now he details the August 21 chemical weapons attack. “It’s an insult” to suggest that anyone other than the Assad regime carried out the attack.
Yet without the threat of a military response, the UN was doing nothing.
His preference, he says, was always for a diplomatic resolution.
Obama: Assad cannot regain his legitimacy
Obama says Syrian regime must keep its side of the diplomatic bargain.
He says the UN must ensure the diplomatic process is upheld.
And an agreement on the chemical weapons should energize efforts for a wider, lasting peace in Syria. That, he says, cannot be achieved by military action.
“A leader who slaughtered his citizens” and gassed them, he says, cannot regain legitimacy. Russia needs to understand this.
Obama: We will not tolerate the development of WMDs
Obama says he knows some are frustrated that the US did not use military force to date, and see a weakening of American credibility. And others are troubled that there was a readiness to use force.
The US is “chastised” from both sides, he says — blamed for meddling and slammed for not intervening. “Some of this is inevitable.” But it impacts the American public.
Now he outlines his Middle East policy to date and in the future. Among the keys:
“We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners.”
The US will protect energy supplies. It will “dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people… and work to address the root causes of terror…. And finally we will not tolerate the development and use of weapons of mass destruction.”
Obama on Iran: We are not seeking regime change
“Iraq showed us that democracy cannot simply be achieved by force, but rather that these objectives can better be achieved when we partner with the international community,” he said.
In the short term, US foreign policy will focus on two issues: Iran’s “pursuit of nuclear weapons” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Resolving these two key issues could help bring a broader peace.
Iran “has threatened our ally Israel with destruction.”
Resolving Iran’s nuclear issue could be a major step forward. America prefers to do so peacefully, but is determined to prevent the Iranian bomb. “We are not seeking regime change.” We respect Iran seeking peaceful nuclear energy. Iran must meet its obligations.
Obama: Diplomatic effort on Iran must be tested
Iran’s conciliatory words will have to matched by verifiable action.
The world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past. But “we are encouraged that President Rouhani” received a mandate for a more moderate course. Secretary Kerry will seek to pursue this course. The obstacles may be too great. But the diplomatic effort should be tested.
West Bank occupation tearing Israeli democracy, says Obama
On Israel and the Palestinians, Obama says he was inspired by young Israelis on his visit in March.
“I believe there is a growing realization in Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing the democratic fabric of their country.” But Israelis have the right to have their country recognized in bodies like the United Nations, and Israelis have the right to live in security.
The Palestinians have the right to live in peace and security in their own sovereign state.
Just as the Palestinians must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.
The entire international community must get behind the pursuit of peace.
Israel’s security as a Jewish democracy depends on the realization of a Palestinian state.
Arab world has to recognize the imperative for a two state solution.
A solution would help isolate and defeat extremists throughout the region.
“Let’s emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice.”
Breakthroughs on the Iran and Israeli-Palestinian issues would have a profound regional impact.
Obama: US has ‘hard-earned humility’ when seeking to resolve conflicts
Turning to Egypt, Obama talks about the mistakes made by the Morsi government, and sets out a wary American approach.
Overall, “we will be engaged in the region for the long haul.”
This includes sectarian disputes, he says. “We’ve seen grinding conflicts come to an end before,” notably in Northern Ireland.
To summarize, the US has “a hard-earned humility” when it comes to seeking to impose solutions to conflicts.
But America must remain engaged internationally, for its own security. America stands up “not only for our own narrow self-interests” but for the interests of all.”
Nations that push for democracy have emerged stronger, more peaceful and more prosperous, he says.
Sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit murder, says US president
US “cannot and should not” bear the burden alone of preventing international atrocities. There are times when the international community has to act, he says, though the US will play its part.
Some criticize the intervention in Libya, he says. Four “outstanding US citizens… including Ambassador Chris Stevens” were killed there, he notes. But does anyone believe things would have been better had Gaddafi been allowed to continue to rule?
“We live in a world of difficult choices.”
Sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit murder or for the world to turn a blind eye.
Sanctions and dogged diplomacy and development assistance must play a role “and there are going to be moments… when the multilateral use of force” may be needed to prevent the worst from occurring.
The US seeks an international community that meets the UN’s founding purpose, to resolve conflicts peacefully, to enable a world where people can live in freedom.
Obama concludes: We look to the future not with fear but with hope
The world is moving forward, Obama notes. Young people want to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.
The people of the Middle East and North Africa need a future where they can focus on opportunity, not fear death.
Obama recalls the plight of African-Americans standing in Nelson Mandela’s cell. He asks: “Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome?”
He wants America to be on the right side of history, in the belief that all men and women are created equally, says Obama. “We look to the future not with fear but with hope,” he concludes, and he remains convinced that the UN can help deliver that better future.
After Obama speech, can handshake with Rouhani be far off?
With that, Obama completes his address — a speech strikingly centered on the Middle East, and specifically Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the Syrian civil war, and the imperative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His reference to Iran’s encouraging choice of Rouhani as president with “a mandate to pursue a more moderate course,” and to the conciliatory words emanating from Tehran, underlined the new presidential readiness for an intensified diplomatic effort. As Obama stated, Secretary Kerry will meet his Iranian counterpart later this week.
An Obama-Rouhani handshake, at the very least, one can anticipate, might not be very far away.
Are you relying on The Times of Israel for accurate and timely coverage right now? If so, please join The Times of Israel Community. For as little as $6/month, you will:
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel eleven years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel