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Wednesday
Sep242014

Seven Things to Know from Obama’s United Nations Address

The White House(NEW YORK) -- President Obama delivered a sweeping 40-minute address to the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday noteworthy for its vigorous defense of U.S. leadership in the world at a time of “pervasive unease” while acknowledging recent failures of the American government to live up to its ideals.

Obama touched on all the major crises of the day: shaming Russia for its aggression in Ukraine; sounding a call to action on Ebola; nudging Iran to seize the opportunity for a nuclear deal; and condemning the “cancer of violence extremism” including ISIS.

Here are seven highlights from Obama’s address:

1. U.S. Will ‘Dismantle Network of Death’

With more than 50 nations joining a U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Obama said it’s clear the world is determined to root out the “cancer of violent extremism.” 

“The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force,” Obama said. “So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

2. Urgent Appeal to Muslim Youth

The president spoke at length directly to the Muslim world and, in particular, Muslim youth.

“Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can,” he said. “Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. …The future belongs to those who build -- not those who destroy.”

Later on Wednesday, Obama said he would convene a U.N. Security Council session to enact a resolution aimed at stopping the flow of young foreign fighters to/from Iraq and Syria.

3. Memo to Russia: ‘Right Makes Might’

Obama heaped shame on Russia before an audience of global delegates for what he called Russia’s ethos of “might makes right” with its meddling in Ukraine.

“Right makes might,” Obama said. “We call upon others to join us on the right side of history -- for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the U.N. meeting, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in the audience. He was reading from a manila folder of paper during Obama’s remarks and fiddling with his iPhone.

4. A Deal with Iran on Nukes Within Reach

As American and Iranian negotiators race toward an end-of-year deadline for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, Obama delivered a public plea for his counterpart -- Hassan Rouhani -- to accept a deal.

“My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful,” Obama said.

Rouhani, who spoke with Obama by phone at last year’s U.N. meeting, was not seen in the assembly hall for Obama’s speech. The White House said there were no plans for the two leaders to meet.

5. Status Quo in Gaza ‘Not Sustainable’

There may be a tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Gaza, but there is still no imminent long-term prospect of peace, Obama conceded on Wednesday. He said his administration was still pursuing peace talks, even though they broke down in the past year and a war broke out between both sides.

“Let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable,” Obama said. “We cannot afford to turn away from this effort -- not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.”

6. Ferguson, Missouri, Riots Were American Growing Pains


Obama made a specific reference to this summer’s racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in a nod to global critics that have sounded off on the U.S. over what they saw.

“I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri -- where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So, yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions,” Obama said. “America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals, and we are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. Because we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and an independent judiciary. Because we address our differences in the open space of democracy -- with respect for the rule of law, with a place for people of every race and every religion, and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and their circumstances and their countries for the better.”

7. World at a Crossroads: Hope Verses Fear

Citing “signposts of progress,” but conceding a “pervasive unease” over ongoing crises, Obama sought to rally members of the United Nations to join American-led efforts to instill “hope over fear” -- a vision that Obama has made his signature slogan at home as well.

“We can renew the international system that has enabled so much progress, or allow ourselves to be pulled back by an undertow of instability. We can reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront global problems, or be swamped by more and more outbreaks of instability,” Obama said.

“For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort,” he said. “We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs; we choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.”


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