A Look At Obama's Agenda At The U.N.

President Obama spent the day meeting with foreign leaders in advance of his address to the United Nations General Assembly, which comes at a moment when Palestinians are pressing for the organization's recognition of their rights as a state. Melissa Block talks to NPR's Ari Shapiro.

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LYNN NEARY, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. President Obama's day has been packed with meetings with his counterparts in some of the world's hotspots. The president is in New York where the United Nations General Assembly is in town. And NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now to talk about the president's day.

And, Ari, let's start first with a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan today that killed the former president of that country, Burhanuddin Rabbani. President Obama met with the current Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, at the U.N. today. What happened?

ARI SHAPIRO: That's right. And both of them spoke to reporters just at the very top of this meeting and reaffirmed their commitment to the mission and said that this will not deter the quest for freedom for the people of Afghanistan, and they won't let it change the U.S. mission in the country.

This is the first time that President Obama and President Karzai have met in person since Mr. Obama laid out his timeline to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. And the suicide attack today just underscores how problematic the situation in the country still is with real ongoing security concerns and not a really clear solution to them on the horizon.

After this meeting, President Karzai left to return to Afghanistan and deal with the fallout from these attacks.

BLOCK: Now, Ari, the issue that's dominating the gathering of the General Assembly is the Palestinians' quest for statehood. Where does that stand?

SHAPIRO: Well, right now, it still looks as though the U.S. is on a collision course with many of its allies. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will seek recognition from the Security Council. And President Obama says the U.S. will exercise its veto. So that puts the U.S. on strong footing with Israel but at odds with many allies in Europe and the Middle East. Those allies support the Palestinians.

American officials keep saying they believe the path to a two-state solution runs through direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, not through the United Nations. Here's what Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said this afternoon.

BEN RHODES: But I think the point that the president will make is, at the end of the day, peace is going to have to be made between the parties; that it can't be imposed from the outside, that it can't be accomplished through actions at the United Nations.

BLOCK: And that discussion right now, Ari, mostly happening behind the scenes. But in public, the focus this morning was on Libya. Describe what happened there.

SHAPIRO: It was a historic and really sort of a moving moment. Heads of state from more than 60 countries gathered in a big conference room at the United Nations headquarters to find a path forward for post-Gadhafi Libya, but it was also sort of a moment of mutual congratulation. When the U.N. and Libyan flags were brought up on stage, the audience gave a standing ovation and applauded.

And for President Obama, he sort of used it as a moment of vindication for his foreign policy. He said this affirms his multilateral approach to global problems. And he said, while there will be challenges ahead, this is the way the international community is supposed to work in the 21st century.

President BARACK OBAMA: More nations bearing the responsibility and the costs of meeting global challenges. In fact, this is the very purpose of this United Nations. So every nation represented here today can take pride in the innocent lives we saved and in helping Libyans reclaim their country. It was the right thing to do.

BLOCK: And, Ari, tomorrow morning, the president will be addressing the U.N. General Assembly. What can you tell us about what he plans to say?

SHAPIRO: Well, it'll be a retrospective on the changes that have happened in the world stage during his last two and a half years in office. And there have been some very positive changes, you know, beginning with Libya. He's also going to mention South Sudan, the newest United Nations country that was not clear it would be so just one year ago.

You know, just a couple of years ago, there was a big brouhaha over where Moammar Gadhafi would park his tent during the United Nations General Assembly. Now, his regime has fallen. And President Obama will also talk about drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the death of Osama bin Laden. He'll say that al-Qaida has deteriorated, and, of course, he'll return to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro in New York, thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you.

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