Israel, Iran, Syria issues dominate President Obama’s address to the U.N.: Calls for diplomatic engagement with Iran, says US does not seek “regime change” in Iran.

The UN General Assembly hall where the leaders of the world are now meeting.

The UN General Assembly hall where the leaders of the world are now meeting.

(Washington, D.C.) — President Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly just concluded. It was scheduled to last 15 minutes. It went for at least 40 minutes. The issues in the Middle East — notably in Syria, Iran and Israel — dominated the American leader’s remarks.

Here is the full text of the speech, and initial coverage:

POLITICO: “President Barack Obama outlined an engaged role Tuesday for the United States in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and North Africa, as he signaled a new willingness to pursue diplomatic talks with Iran and called on the United  Nations Security Council to threaten consequences if Syria does not follow through on its promise to give up its chemical weapons,” reported Politico. “Iran will be a diplomatic ‘focus’ for the United States, Obama told the United Nations General Assembly, as he’s directed Secretary of State John Kerry to work with the European Union and the governments of United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China to engage in talks with Iranian President Hassan  Rouhani’s government.”

“I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” he said,  though the path may be rocky. Given the virtually nonexistent U.S.-Iran relationship over the past three decades, “I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight,” he said, because “the suspicions run too deep….But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship – one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”

TIMES OF ISRAEL: The Israeli online news service, Times of Israel, was live-blogging the speech. Here’s part of what they reported:

  • “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…..
  • 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.

REUTERS: “U.S. President Barack Obama told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday that there should be a basis for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear ambitions but that the roadblocks will be difficult to overcome,” reported Reuters. “Obama, in closely watched remarks on Iran based on a diplomatic opening offered by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, said the United States wants to resolve the Iran nuclear issue peacefully but is determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. ‘The roadblocks may prove to be too great but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,’ Obama said. “He urged the U.N. Security Council to approve a strong resolution aimed at ensuring Syria keeps its commitments to give up chemical weapons and said the United States will provide an additional $340 million in humanitarian aid.”

WASHINGTON POST: “President Obama on Tuesday challenged the United Nations and its members to respond more actively to resolve the civil war in Syria, using the conflict as an example of the wider challenges facing the world five years into his White House tenure,” reported the Washington Post.

“Our response has not matched the scale of the challenge,” Obama told the U.N. General Assembly. “The crisis in Syria and the destabilization of the region goes to the heart of the broader challenges the international community must now face.”

“Obama used Syria’s crisis to highlight what he called the ‘convulsions’ reshaping the Middle East and North Africa, a tumultuous region that served as the centerpiece of his address,” the Post noted. “He said that for the remainder of his time in office, his Middle East policy efforts would focus resolving the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace. ‘Real breakthroughs on these two issues . . . would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa,’ Obama said. ‘But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations.’ Obama outlined specifically how he believes the world should work together on Syria, beginning with the quick passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution enforcing a still-tenuous agreement for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical weapon arsenal, which U.S. officials say he recently used against his own people…..”

“The U.S president issued a stern warning to Iran —  saying, ‘We will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction’ —  even as he acknowledged that his administration and a new government in Tehran are exploring the prospects of improved relations,” the Post reported. “The address — Obama’s fifth to the U.N. General Assembly took a much more  prescriptive approach to problems in the Middle East and Iran than his broader, thematic speeches of previous years. The tighter focus reflects a growing sense inside the administration that the president’s foreign policy legacy may be defined by events in the Middle East and North Africa, where secular and Islamic popular movements continue vying for political authority.”

Read President Obama’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly (as prepared for delivery), via the Washington Post.



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