President Obama delivered his second speech at the United Nations Thursday morning, giving a full-throated defense of his first 20 months in office and a sober assessment of the challenges that lie ahead.
He pled for the world to aggressively support the U.S.-led direct peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Specifically, he called on Arab nations to demonstrate their support through changes in policy that could help repair relations between Israel and its neighbors.
"Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges must now be supported by deeds," Obama said. "Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps toward the normalization that it promises Israel. Those who speak out for Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially, and - in so doing - help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state. And those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down."
Obama also announced that he will add Indonesia, a country to which he has twice cancelled visits, to his Asia trip this November, which will also include stops in India, South Korea, and Japan. Obama meets with leaders from all 10 ASEAN member countries Friday.
Here are some key excerpts:
On the U.S. economy:
I have had no greater focus as President than rescuing our economy from potential catastrophe. And in an age when prosperity is shared, we could not do this alone. So America has joined with nations around the world to spur growth, and the renewed demand that could restart job creation. We are reforming our system of global finance, beginning with Wall Street reform at home, so that a crisis like this never happens again. And we made the G-20 the focal point for international coordination, because in a world where prosperity is more diffuse, we must broaden our circle of cooperation to include emerging economies.
There is much to show for our efforts, even as there is much more work to be done. The global economy has been pulled back from the brink of a depression, and is growing once more. We have resisted protectionism, and are exploring ways to expand trade and commerce among nations. But we cannot - and will not - rest until these seeds of progress grow into a broader prosperity, for all Americans, and for people around the globe.
On the war against Islamic extremists:
While drawing down in Iraq, we have refocused on defeating al Qaeda and denying its affiliates a safe-haven. In Afghanistan, the United States and our allies are pursuing a strategy to break the Taliban's momentum and build the capacity of Afghanistan's government and Security Forces, so that a transition to Afghan responsibility can begin next July. And from South Asia to the Horn of Africa, we are moving toward a more targeted approach- one that strengthens our partners, and dismantles terrorist networks without deploying large American armies.
As part of our efforts on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said - in this hall - that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities. That is what we have done. Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through UN Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.
Now let me be clear once more: the United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.
On the Middle East peace process:
Now, many are pessimistic about this process. The cynics say that Israelis and Palestinians are too distrustful of each other, and too divided internally, to forge lasting peace. Rejectionists on both sides will try to disrupt the process, with bitter words and with bombs. Some say that the gaps between the parties are too big; the potential for talks to break down is too great; and that after decades of failure, peace is simply not possible.
But consider the alternative. If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to co-existence. The hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity.
I refuse to accept that future. We all have a choice to make. And each of us must choose the path of peace. That responsibility begins with the parties themselves, who must answer the call of history.
On human rights and democracy:
In times of economic unease, there can also be an anxiety about human rights. Today, as in past times of economic downturn, some put human rights aside for the promise of short term stability, or the false notion that economic growth can come at the expense of freedom. We see leaders abolishing term limits, crackdowns on civil society, and corruption smothering entrepreneurship and good governance. We see democratic reforms deferred indefinitely.
As I said last year, each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its people. Yet experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty - that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments. To put it simply: democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens. And that truth will only grow stronger in a world where the borders between nations are blurred.
It's time for every member state to open its elections to international monitors, and to increase the UN Democracy Fund. It's time to reinvigorate UN peacekeeping, so that missions have the resources necessary to succeed, and so atrocities like sexual violence are prevented and justice is enforced - because neither dignity nor democracy can thrive without basic security. And it's time to make this institution more accountable as well, because the challenges of a new century demand new ways of serving our common interests.
The world that America seeks is not one that we can build on our own. For human rights to reach those who suffer the boot of oppression, we need your voices to speak out. In particular, I appeal to those nations who emerged from tyranny and inspired the world in the second half of the last century - from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to South America. Do not stand idly by when dissidents everywhere are imprisoned and protesters are beaten. Because part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.