NEW YORK — After coming under fire from some Republicans in Washington for his overly conciliatory stance when dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Barack Obama delivered an underhanded response to his Russian counterpart on the floor of the UN.
“Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional”, Obama told the assembled plenary of the world governing body. America, Obama said, supports not only its own interests, but the interests “of all”.
Obama’s comments served as a response to an opinion piece that the Russian president published in the New York Times, in which Putin warned that “it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional.” The op-ed by Putin was widely read in Washington, where lawmakers took offense at its supercilious tone toward American policy.
Obama’s speech on the floor of UN was absent any of the dramatic parliamentary fireworks that can come out during contentious speeches at the world governing body. The delegations of Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria all sat quietly through the speech without any visible acts of protest or frustration.
Israel sits alphabetized in the second row, across the aisle in the temporary plenary from both Iran and Iraq. The UN buildings are currently being renovated, and so the General Assembly is not meeting in the hall in which it is traditionally held.
Leaders are asked to keep their speeches to a 15-minute limit, but Obama spoke for almost 45 minutes. Other delegations could be seen chatting in their rows, and checking their cellphones during the long address, which was greeted at the end by polite, somewhat reticent, applause.
Immediately after the speech, Secretary of State John Kerry was positive but unenthusiastic, telling reporters that the speech was “good” but not elaborating.
During this – and every – opportunity for contact with Obama, the press has pushed him on whether he will meet one-on-one with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who addressed the UN plenary later Tuesday. The president remained intently close-lipped on the subject. Later it emerged that the US had offered such a meeting, and Iran had spurned it.
One opportunity previously considered likely for such a meeting went by unfulfilled Tuesday afternoon when a number of heads of state gathered for the traditional lunch hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Obama milled around for a number of minutes before sitting at his table, but the Iranian delegation, including Rouhani, proved to be no-shows for the event.
Before starting on their appetizers of tuna tartare, Ban and Obama both offered toasts, with Obama pointedly saluting the UN personnel who came under fire while attempting to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria last month.