As expected, President Barack Obama used the stage at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday morning to touch on practically all of the global urgencies the U.S. faces, and, as expected, Syria and Iran got the most attention.
Regarding Afghanistan, the president observed that our troops will be out of there next year. Regarding Tunisia, he said that with the advent of the Arab Spring, there came a sense of hope that peaceful transition was on the horizon in North Africa and the Middle East.
But in speaking of his hope for peace and tranquility among the world’s nations, Obama would have been remiss not to mention the most recent tragedy in Kenya that left carnage in a shopping mall last Saturday.
“Ultimately,” he said, stressing the goal of the U.S., “this is the international community that America seeks—one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution; a world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully and prevent the kind of wars that our forefathers fought; a world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi, in Peshawar or Damascus.”
Oddly, in his geopolitical rundown, there was no mention of North Korea, and China was only referred to as a member of the U.N. Security Council, where, along with the U.S., France, Britain and Russia, it is a permanent member. And in the coming days, it goes without saying that Russia will retain its place in the spotlight as the negotiations continue on the wording of the resolution to bring the chemical weapons in Syria under international control.
And what if there’s no agreement or the Assad regime unleashes chemical gas on its people again? Obama paused for a moment as if to make his foreign policy over the remaining days of his tenure perfectly clear. “Let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency. The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region,” Obama said.
His comments on Syria segued directly into his concern about Iran. There was much speculation that he might meet with Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, during his visit to the U.N. because both were there to address the Assembly.
To date, there has not been the typical rancor between the U.S. and Iran that was so evident with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and this was subtly indicated by Obama.
“Since I took office,” he began, “I have made it clear—in letters to the supreme leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani—that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“Meanwhile, the supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.”
Of course, Obama had to say something about the quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, about bringing all the troops home from Iraq and the continuing war against terrorism, particularly al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and it was no surprise to hear him emphasize his desire for peace and harmony among the nations of the world.
“Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change, to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history,” he said toward the end of his lengthy speech. “Last month, I stood where 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for president. Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world. Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring? Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?”