President Obama addressed the 68th session of the United Countries Normal Meeting Tuesday.
President Obama challenged the world on Tuesday: enforce a ban on chemical weapons in Syria or show yourself to be spineless.
A tough-minded but idealistic Obama addressed the UN General Assembly, focusing on the Middle East and North Africa. He outlined what he thought should be America’s role, defended its decisions and left no doubt “we will be engaged in the region for the long haul.”
Obama, addressing the leaders of 193 nations, argued for a central role for the UN and international community in meeting “cries for justice.”
At the same time, he stoutly defended his threat of unilateral military action against Syria warned that inaction now would show the UN “incapable of enforcing even the most basic of international laws.”
“We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people,” Obama pledged Tuesday.
He noted that the U.S. often finds itself in a Catch-22 related to the Middle East: it’s bad-mouthed either for “meddling” or “blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems.”
The drama of the speech was inescapable. After all, seated before him were leaders of countries he pointedly derided at times, including Iran, Syria, Egypt and Libya. He was especially acidic when it came to their squelching dissent within their countries.
With Iran, he left no doubt that resolving the issues around its nuclear program is merely a mandatory first step to improving relations with the U.S.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Obama said he would charge Secretary of State John Kerry with pursuing diplomatic progress with Iran on the nuclear issue.
He cited its decades of deriding and plotting against both the U.S. and key Middle East ally, Israel.
“I don’t think this difficult history can be overcome overnight. The suspicions run too deep.”
To that extent, he contended that it’s short-sighted to look at peace agreements between nations. In addition, one must be mindful of conflicts playing out within individual countries.
“I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened” America will protect “basic human rights,” Obama said.
He cited the American decision not to take sides in Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood faces off with the military which has now taken back controls of the government.
But he said that in Egypt and elsewhere, America opposes the use of violence to suppress dissent. He spurned the criticism that principles, like free speech, “are merely Western exports. We believe they are the birthright of every person.”
The notion of “American empire might be useful propaganda” for some countries, he said. But the world had best be less concerned about an America that’s too activist than one that turns passive and disengaged.
That, he said, would wind up “creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is willing to fill. I believe such disengagement is a mistake.”
But he left no doubt about his agenda in the region: stopping the Iranian nuclear program, dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict and supporting human rights throughout the region.
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