Obama Stresses Need For Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. President Obama was in New York today for the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then he addressed the General Assembly. And late today, he met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. But the president's stature at the United Nations has diminished since his election nearly three years ago, and today he brought a message that many in the world body did not want to hear, that the U.S. will oppose a Palestinian bid for UN recognition. NPR's Ari Shapiro has our story from New York.
ARI SHAPIRO: President Obama was not the first world leader to speak this morning. That spot went to Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's president. The crowd greeted her enthusiastically, applauding at this line spoken through a translator.
DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Through Translator) Like most countries in this assembly, we believe that the time has come for us to have Palestine fully represented as a full member in this forum.
SHAPIRO: She was the first in a parade of leaders arguing for the U.N. to recognize a Palestinian state. President Obama explained why he disagrees.
BARACK OBAMA: Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.
SHAPIRO: He reaffirmed his support for an independent Palestine living next to a secure Israel. But he said direct peace talks are the only path to that goal. And he reaffirmed that nothing has changed about the U.S.'s ongoing loyalty to Israel.
OBAMA: America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.
SHAPIRO: That may be reassuring to friends of Israel at home and abroad, but it's not a very popular sentiment here at the U.N. The audience did not applaud once during the address. For President Obama, the challenge is to explain why he supports self-determination in many Arab countries but opposes Palestinian statehood. That conflict only occupied a small part of the address. The rest of the talk was a bit like a family Christmas letter, reviewing the year's highlights for the international community. Of course, the events in this list are far more monumental than weddings and school graduations.
OBAMA: This year has been a time of extraordinary transformation.
SHAPIRO: He reviewed the political earthquakes that have shaken the world in the last year, beginning his description of each country's journey with the phrase...
OBAMA: One year ago...
SHAPIRO: One year ago, he said, the people of Tunisia were suppressed. Then...
OBAMA: ...a vendor lit a spark that took his own life. But he ignited a movement.
SHAPIRO: One year ago, Egypt had known the same president for nearly 30 years. Then came the protests in Tahrir Square.
OBAMA: We saw in those protesters the moral force of nonviolence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa. And we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.
SHAPIRO: And so it went. The president talked about successful democratic change in South Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire and Libya.
OBAMA: This is how the international community is supposed to work: nations standing together for the sake of peace and security and individuals claiming their rights.
SHAPIRO: Of course, there are many issues where the international community does not stand as one. President Obama criticized Iran, North Korea, Yemen and Bahrain by name. And he said the United Nations must do more in Syria to stop the brutal attacks on peaceful protesters.
OBAMA: There is no excuse for inaction. Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime and to stand with the Syrian people.
SHAPIRO: After the speech, the president had a series of one-on-one meetings, including with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This evening, he flies back to the White House, where he'll shift his attention from the divided international community back to the divided political landscape here at home. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, New York.
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