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Foreign Policy Analysis
President Obama Addresses the UN General Assembly

President Obama Addresses the UN General Assembly

President Obama:
Good morning. Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen, it is my
honor to address you for the first time as the 44th
President of the United States. (applause) I come before you humbled by the
responsibility that the American people have placed upon me,
mindful of the enormous challenges of our
moment in history, and determined to act boldly
and collectively on behalf of justice and prosperity
at home and abroad. I have been in office for just
nine months — though some days it seems a lot longer. I am well aware of the
expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations
are not about me. Rather, they are
rooted, I believe, in a discontent with a status
quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined
by our differences, and outpaced by our problems. But they are also rooted in hope
— the hope that real change is possible, and the hope that
America will be a leader in bringing about such change. I took office at a time when
many around the world had come to view America with
skepticism and distrust. Part of this was due
to misperceptions and misinformation about my country. Part of this was due to
opposition to specific policies, and a belief that on
certain critical issues, America has acted
unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others. And this has fed an almost
reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an
excuse for collective inaction. Now, like all of you, my
responsibility is to act in the interest of my
nation and my people, and I will never apologize for
defending those interests. But it is my deeply held belief
that in the year 2009 — more than at any point in human
history — the interests of nations and peoples are shared. The religious convictions that
we hold in our hearts can forge new bonds among people,
or they can tear us apart. The technology we harness
can light the path to peace, or forever darken it. The energy we use can sustain
our planet, or destroy it. What happens to the hope of a
single child — anywhere — can enrich our world,
or impoverish it. In this hall, we come
from many places, but we share a common future. No longer do we have the luxury
of indulging our differences to the exclusion of the work
that we must do together. I have carried this message
from London to Ankara; from Port of Spain to
Moscow; from Accra to Cairo; and it is what I will speak
about today — because the time has come for the world to
move in a new direction. We must embrace a new era of
engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect,
and our work must begin now. We know the future
will be forged by deeds and not simply words. Speeches alone will not
solve our problems — it will take persistent action. For those who question the
character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the
concrete actions we have taken in just nine months. On my first day in office, I
prohibited — without exception or equivocation — the use of
torture by the United States of America. (applause) I ordered the prison at
Guantanamo Bay closed, and we are doing the hard work
of forging a framework to combat extremism within
the rule of law. Every nation must know:
America will live its values, and we will lead by example. We have set a clear and focused
goal: to work with all members of this body to
disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its
extremist allies — a network that has killed thousands of
people of many faiths and nations, and that plotted to
blow up this very building. In Afghanistan and Pakistan,
we and many nations here are helping these governments
develop the capacity to take the lead in this effort, while
working to advance opportunity and security for their people. In Iraq, we are
responsibly ending a war. We have removed American combat
brigades from Iraqi cities, and set a deadline of next
August to remove all our combat brigades from Iraqi territory. And I have made clear that we
will help Iraqis transition to full responsibility
for their future, and keep our commitment to
remove all American troops by the end of 2011. I have outlined a comprehensive
agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In Moscow, the United States and
Russia announced that we would pursue substantial
reductions in our strategic warheads and launchers. At the Conference
on Disarmament, we agreed on a work plan
to negotiate an end to the production of fissile
materials for nuclear weapons. And this week, my Secretary of
State will become the first senior American representative
to the annual Members Conference of the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty. Upon taking office, I appointed
a Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, and America has worked
steadily and aggressively to advance the cause of two states
— Israel and Palestine — in which peace and
security take root, and the rights of both Israelis
and Palestinians are respected. To confront climate
change, we have invested $80 billion in clean energy. We have substantially increased
our fuel-efficiency standards. We have provided new
incentives for conservation, launched an energy partnership
across the Americas, and moved from a bystander
to a leader in international climate negotiations. To overcome an economic crisis
that touches every corner of the world, we worked with the G20
nations to forge a coordinated international response of over
$2 trillion in stimulus to bring the global economy
back from the brink. We mobilized resources that
helped prevent the crisis from spreading further to
developing countries. And we joined with others to
launch a $20 billion global food security initiative that will
lend a hand to those who need it most, and help them
build their own capacity. We’ve also re-engaged
the United Nations. We have paid our bills. We have joined the
Human Rights Council. (applause) We have signed the
Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have fully embraced the
Millennium Development Goals. And we address our
priorities here, in this institution
— for instance, through the Security Council
meeting that I will chair tomorrow on nuclear
non-proliferation and disarmament, and
through the issues that I will discuss today. This is what we
have already done. But this is just a beginning. Some of our actions
have yielded progress. Some have laid the groundwork
for progress in the future. But make no mistake: This cannot
solely be America’s endeavor. Those who used to chastise
America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and
wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone. We have sought — in word and
deed — a new era of engagement with the world. And now is the time for all
of us to take our share of responsibility for a global
response to global challenges. Now, if we are honest
with ourselves, we need to admit
that we are not living up to that responsibility. Consider the course that we’re
on if we fail to confront the status quo: Extremists sowing
terror in pockets of the world; protracted conflicts that
grind on and on; genocide; mass atrocities; more nations
with nuclear weapons; melting ice caps and
ravaged populations; persistent poverty
and pandemic disease. I say this not to sow fear, but
to state a fact: The magnitude of our challenges has
yet to be met by the measure of our actions. This body was founded on the
belief that the nations of the world could solve their
problems together. Franklin Roosevelt, who died
before he could see his vision for this institution
become a reality, put it this way — and I quote:
“The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man,
or one party, or one nation. It cannot be a peace of large
nations — or of small nations. It must be a peace which
rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.” The cooperative effort
of the whole world. Those words ring
even more true today, when it is not simply peace, but
our very health and prosperity that we hold in common. Yet we also know that this body
is made up of sovereign states. And sadly, but not surprisingly,
this body has often become a forum for sowing discord instead
of forging common ground; a venue for playing politics and
exploiting grievances rather than solving problems. After all, it is easy to walk up
to this podium and point figures — point fingers
and stoke divisions. Nothing is easier than blaming
others for our troubles, and absolving ourselves
of responsibility for our choices and our actions. Anybody can do that. Responsibility and leadership in
the 21st century demand more. In an era when our
destiny is shared, power is no longer
a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try
to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one
nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power
among nations will hold. The traditional divisions
between nations of the South and the North make no sense in
an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations
rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War. The time has come to realize
that the old habits, the old arguments, are
irrelevant to the challenges faced by our people. They lead nations to act in
opposition to the very goals that they claim to pursue — and
to vote, often in this body, against the interests
of their own people. They build up walls between us
and the future that our people seek, and the time has come
for those walls to come down. Together, we must build new
coalitions that bridge old divides — coalitions of
different faiths and creeds; of north and south, east,
west, black, white, and brown. The choice is ours. We can be remembered as a
generation that chose to drag the arguments of the 20th
century into the 21st; that put off hard choices,
refused to look ahead, failed to keep pace because we
defined ourselves by what we were against instead
of what we were for. Or we can be a generation that
chooses to see the shoreline beyond the rough waters ahead;
that comes together to serve the common interests
of human beings, and finally gives meaning to the
promise embedded in the name given to this institution:
the United Nations. That is the future America
wants — a future of peace and prosperity that we can only
reach if we recognize that all nations have rights,
but all nations have responsibilities as well. That is the bargain
that makes this work. That must be the
guiding principle of international cooperation. Today, let me put forward four
pillars that I believe are fundamental to the future that
we want for our children: non-proliferation
and disarmament; the promotion of
peace and security; the preservation of our planet;
and a global economy that advances opportunity
for all people. First, we must stop the
spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of
a world without them. This institution was founded
at the dawn of the atomic age, in part because man’s capacity
to kill had to be contained. For decades, we
averted disaster, even under the shadow of
a superpower stand-off. But today, the threat of
proliferation is growing in scope and complexity. If we fail to act, we will
invite nuclear arms races in every region, and the prospect
of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can
hardly imagine. A fragile consensus stands in
the way of this frightening outcome, and that is the basic
bargain that shapes the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It says that all nations have
the right to peaceful nuclear energy; that nations with
nuclear weapons have a responsibility to move
toward disarmament; and those without them have the
responsibility to forsake them. The next 12 months could be
pivotal in determining whether this compact will
be strengthened or will slowly dissolve. America intends to keep
our end of the bargain. We will pursue a new agreement
with Russia to substantially reduce our strategic
warheads and launchers. We will move forward with
ratification of the Test Ban Treaty, and work with others to
bring the treaty into force so that nuclear testing is
permanently prohibited. We will complete a Nuclear
Posture Review that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces
the role of nuclear weapons. And we will call upon countries
to begin negotiations in January on a treaty to end the
production of fissile material for weapons. I will also host a summit next
April that reaffirms each nation’s responsibility to
secure nuclear material on its territory, and to help those who
can’t — because we must never allow a single nuclear
device to fall into the hands of a violent extremist. And we will work to strengthen
the institutions and initiatives that combat nuclear
smuggling and theft. All of this must support
efforts to strengthen the NPT. Those nations that refuse to
live up to their obligations must face consequences. Let me be clear, this is not
about singling out individual nations — it is about standing
up for the rights of all nations that do live up to
their responsibilities. Because a world in which IAEA
inspections are avoided and the United Nation’s demands are
ignored will leave all people less safe, and all
nations less secure. In their actions to date, the
governments of North Korea and Iran threaten to take us
down this dangerous slope. We respect their
rights as members of the community of nations. I’ve said before
and I will repeat, I am committed to diplomacy
that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace
for both nations if they live up to their obligations. But if the governments of Iran
and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if
they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional
stability and the security and opportunity of their own people;
if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear
arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East — then they
must be held accountable. The world must stand together to
demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and
that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future
does not belong to fear. That brings me to the second
pillar for our future: the pursuit of peace. The United Nations was born of
the belief that the people of the world can live their
lives, raise their families, and resolve their
differences peacefully. And yet we know that in too
many parts of the world, this ideal remains an
abstraction — a distant dream. We can either accept that
outcome as inevitable, and tolerate constant
and crippling conflict, or we can recognize that the
yearning for peace is universal, and reassert our resolve to end
conflicts around the world. That effort must begin with an
unshakeable determination that the murder of innocent
men, women and children will never be tolerated. On this, no one can be —
there can be no dispute. The violent extremists who
promote conflict by distorting faith have discredited
and isolated themselves. They offer nothing but
hatred and destruction. In confronting them, America
will forge lasting partnerships to target terrorists,
share intelligence, and coordinate law enforcement
and protect our people. We will permit no safe haven for
al Qaeda to launch attacks from Afghanistan or any other nation. We will stand by our
friends on the front lines, as we and many nations will do
in pledging support for the Pakistani people tomorrow. And we will pursue positive
engagement that builds bridges among faiths, and new
partnerships for opportunity. Our efforts to promote
peace, however, cannot be limited to
defeating violent extremists. For the most powerful weapon in
our arsenal is the hope of human beings — the belief that the
future belongs to those who would build and not destroy; the
confidence that conflicts can end and a new day can begin. And that is why we will support
— we will strengthen our support for effective
peacekeeping, while energizing our
efforts to prevent conflicts before they take hold. We will pursue a lasting peace
in Sudan through support for the people of Darfur and the
implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,
so that we secure the peace that the Sudanese people deserve. (applause) And in countries ravaged by
violence — from Haiti to Congo to East Timor — we
will work with the U.N. and other partners to
support an enduring peace. I will also continue to seek a
just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine,
and the Arab world. (applause) We will continue to
work on that issue. Yesterday, I had a constructive
meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. We have made some progress. Palestinians have strengthened
their efforts on security. Israelis have facilitated
greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians. As a result of these
efforts on both sides, the economy in the West
Bank has begun to grow. But more progress is needed. We continue to call on
Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue
to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of
continued Israeli settlements. (applause) The time has come — the
time has come to re-launch negotiations without
preconditions that address the permanent status issues:
security for Israelis and Palestinians, borders,
refugees, and Jerusalem. And the goal is clear: Two
states living side by side in peace and security — a
Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all
Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state
with contiguous territory that ends the occupation
that began in 1967, and realizes the potential
of the Palestinian people. (applause) As we pursue this goal, we will
also pursue peace between Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria,
and a broader peace between Israel and its many neighbors. In pursuit of that goal, we will
develop regional initiatives with multilateral
participation, alongside bilateral negotiations. Now, I am not naïve. I know this will be difficult. But all of us — not just the
Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us — must decide
whether we are serious about peace, or whether we will
only lend it lip service. To break the old patterns, to
break the cycle of insecurity and despair, all of us must
say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. The United States does Israel no
favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its
security with an insistence that Israel respect the
legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. (applause) And — and nations within this
body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose
vitriolic attacks against Israel over constructive willingness to
recognize Israel’s legitimacy and its right to exist
in peace and security. (applause) We must remember that the
greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us. It’s not paid by politicians. It’s paid by the Israeli girl in
Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her
life in the middle of the night. It’s paid for by the Palestinian
boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country
to call his own. These are all God’s children. And after all the politics
and all the posturing, this is about the right of
every human being to live with dignity and security. That is a lesson embedded in the
three great faiths that call one small slice of
Earth the Holy Land. And that is why, even though
there will be setbacks and false starts and tough days,
I will not waver in my pursuit of peace. (applause) Third, we must recognize
that in the 21st century, there will be no peace unless
we take responsibility for the preservation of our planet. And I thank the Secretary
General for hosting the subject of climate change yesterday. The danger posed by climate
change cannot be denied. Our responsibility to meet
it must not be deferred. If we continue down
our current course, every member of this Assembly
will see irreversible changes within their borders. Our efforts to end conflicts
will be eclipsed by wars over refugees and resources. Development will be devastated
by drought and famine. Land that human
beings have lived on for millennia will disappear. Future generations will look
back and wonder why we refused to act; why we failed to pass on
— why we failed to pass on an environment that was
worthy of our inheritance. And that is why the days when
America dragged its feet on this issue are over. We will move forward with
investments to transform our energy economy, while providing
incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy. We will press ahead with deep
cuts in emissions to reach the goals that we set for
2020, and eventually 2050. We will continue to promote
renewable energy and efficiency, and share new technologies with
countries around the world. And we will seize every
opportunity for progress to address this threat
in a cooperative effort with the entire world. And those wealthy nations that
did so much damage to the environment in the 20th
century must accept our obligation to lead. But responsibility
does not end there. While we must acknowledge
the need for differentiated responses, any effort to curb
carbon emissions must include the fast-growing carbon emitters
who can do more to reduce their air pollution without
inhibiting growth. And any effort that fails to
help the poorest nations both adapt to the problems that
climate change have already wrought and help them travel
a path of clean development simply will not work. It’s hard to change
something as fundamental as how we use energy. I know that. It’s even harder to do so in the
midst of a global recession. Certainly, it will be
tempting to sit back and wait for others to move first. But we cannot make
this journey unless we all move forward together. As we head into Copenhagen, let
us resolve to focus on what each of us can do for the sake
of our common future. And this leads me to the final
pillar that must fortify our future: a global
economy that advances opportunity for all people. The world is still recovering
from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In America, we see the engine
of growth beginning to churn, and yet many still struggle to
find a job or pay their bills. Across the globe, we
find promising signs, but little certainty
about what lies ahead. And far too many people in far
too many places live through the daily crises that challenge our
humanity — the despair of an empty stomach; the thirst
brought on by dwindling water supplies; the injustice of a
child dying from a treatable disease; or a mother losing
her life as she gives birth. In Pittsburgh, we will work with
the world’s largest economies to chart a course for growth that
is balanced and sustained. That means vigilance to ensure
that we do not let up until our people are back to work. That means taking steps to
rekindle demand so that global recovery can be sustained. And that means setting new rules
of the road and strengthening regulation for all
financial centers, so that we put an end to the
greed and the excess and the abuse that led us
into this disaster, and prevent a crisis like this
from ever happening again. At a time of such
interdependence, we have a moral and
pragmatic interest, however, in broader questions of
development — the questions of development that existed even
before this crisis happened. And so America will continue
our historic effort to help people feed themselves. We have set aside $63 billion to
carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS, to end deaths from
tuberculosis and malaria, to eradicate polio,
and to strengthen public health systems. We are joining with other
countries to contribute H1N1 vaccines to the World
Health Organization. We will integrate more economies
into a system of global trade. We will support the
Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s
summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on
the eradication of extreme poverty in our time. Now is the time for all
of us to do our part. Growth will not be sustained
or shared unless all nations embrace their responsibilities. And that means that wealthy
nations must open their markets to more goods and extend
a hand to those with less, while reforming international
institutions to give more nations a greater voice. And developing nations must root
out the corruption that is an obstacle to progress — for
opportunity cannot thrive where individuals are oppressed and
business have to pay bribes. That is why we support honest
police and independent judges; civil society and a
vibrant private sector. Our goal is simple: a global
economy in which growth is sustained, and opportunity
is available to all. Now, the changes that I’ve
spoken about today will not be easy to make. And they will not be realized
simply by leaders like us coming together in forums like this,
as useful as that may be. For as in any
assembly of members, real change can only come
through the people we represent. That is why we must do the hard
work to lay the groundwork for progress in our own capitals. That’s where we will build the
consensus to end conflicts and to harness technology
for peaceful purposes, to change the way we use energy,
and to promote growth that can be sustained and shared. I believe that the people
of the world want this future for their children. And that is why we must champion
those principles which ensure that governments reflect
the will of the people. These principles cannot be
afterthoughts — democracy and human rights are essential to
achieving each of the goals that I’ve discussed today, because
governments of the people and by the people are more likely to
act in the broader interests of their own people,
rather than narrow interests of those in power. The test of our leadership will
not be the degree to which we feed the fears and old
hatreds of our people. True leadership will not be
measured by the ability to muzzle dissent, or to
intimidate and harass political opponents at home. The people of the
world want change. They will not long tolerate
those who are on the wrong side of history. This Assembly’s Charter commits
each of us — and I quote — “to reaffirm faith in
fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth
of the human person, in the equal rights
of men and women.” Among those rights is the
freedom to speak your mind and worship as you please; the
promise of equality of the races, and the opportunity for
women and girls to pursue their own potential; the ability of
citizens to have a say in how you are governed, and to
have confidence in the administration of justice. For just as no nation should be
forced to accept the tyranny of another nation, no individual
should be forced to accept the tyranny of their own people. (applause) As an African American, I will
never forget that I would not be here today without the steady
pursuit of a more perfect union in my country. And that guides my belief that
no matter how dark the day may seem, transformative change
can be forged by those who choose to side with justice. And I pledge that America will
always stand with those who stand up for their dignity and
their rights — for the student who seeks to learn; the voter
who demands to be heard; the innocent who
longs to be free; the oppressed who
yearns to be equal. Democracy cannot be imposed on
any nation from the outside. Each society must
search for its own path, and no path is perfect. Each country will pursue a path
rooted in the culture of its people and in its
past traditions. And I admit that America has
too often been selective in its promotion of democracy. But that does not
weaken our commitment; it only reinforces it. There are basic principles
that are universal; there are certain truths which
are self-evident — and the United States of America will
never waver in our efforts to stand up for the right
of people everywhere to determine their own destiny. (applause) Sixty-five years ago, a weary
Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the American people in his fourth
and final inaugural address. After years of war, he sought to
sum up the lessons that could be drawn from the
terrible suffering, the enormous sacrifice
that had taken place. “We have learned,” he said,
“to be citizens of the world, members of the human community.” The United Nations was built
by men and women like Roosevelt from every corner of the world
— from Africa and Asia, from Europe to the Americas. These architects of
international cooperation had an idealism that was anything but
naïve — it was rooted in the hard-earned lessons of war;
rooted in the wisdom that nations could advance their
interests by acting together instead of splitting apart. Now it falls to us — for
this institution will be what we make of it. The United Nations does
extraordinary good around the world — feeding the hungry,
caring for the sick, mending places that
have been broken. But it also struggles
to enforce its will, and to live up to the
ideals of its founding. I believe that those
imperfections are not a reason to walk away from this
institution — they are a calling to redouble our efforts. The United Nations can either be
a place where we bicker about outdated grievances,
or forge common ground; a place where we focus
on what drives us apart, or what brings us together; a
place where we indulge tyranny, or a source of moral authority. In short, the United Nations
can be an institution that is disconnected from what matters
in the lives of our citizens, or it can be an indispensable
factor in advancing the interests of the
people we serve. We have reached
a pivotal moment. The United States stands ready
to begin a new chapter of international cooperation — one
that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations. And so, with confidence
in our cause, and with a commitment
to our values, we call on all nations to join
us in building the future that our people so richly deserve. Thank you very much, everybody.

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