Day At U.N. Underscores Obama's Challenges
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Diplomats and their aides from all over the world are crowded into midtown Manhattan. It's the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow. Today, President Obama shuttled between meetings with the president of China and with leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And he attended a U.N. summit on climate change.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports from New York.
DON GONYEA: This is Mr. Obama's first time at the United Nations as president. It's a week to build on connections made in his already extensive overseas travel, but the week also underscores just how hard progress can be to come by: take the Middle East, where things are at a standstill. Today, posing for pictures with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the president could only restate his goals and urged that talks be revived.
President BARACK OBAMA: Simply put, it is past time to talk about starting negotiations. It is time to move forward. It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that's necessary to achieve our goals.
GONYEA: Polls show that Mr. Obama is extremely popular around the globe, but that doesn't melt away old divisions abroad or at home. In fact, some of his own major diplomatic priorities on issues such as climate change are competing for attention with domestic issues, like health care, back home. At this morning's U.N. climate change summit, the president used his speech to stress that no nation, wealthy or poor, will escape the impact of global warming.
President OBAMA: Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent droughts and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive.
GONYEA: He said developing nations need to commit to reducing carbon emissions. They've been reluctant to do so out of fear of hurting the economic growth that can pull people out of poverty. But the president argued that global climate rules cannot exempt such nations.
President OBAMA: Their future is no longer a choice between a growing economy and a cleaner planet because their survival depends on both.
GONYEA: Following the speech, the administration's top environmental advisors met with reporters. Todd Stern is the U.S. State Department's Special Envoy for Climate Change. He says for the fight against global warming to succeed it's critical that developing nations buy in.
Mr. TODD STERN (Special Envoy for Climate Change, State Department): They also have to take actions and they have to stand behind those actions to the same degree that the United States and the developed countries do. He is making that very clear and that has not traditionally been the way that the climate-change negotiations and the whole climate change international debate has gone on.
DON GONYEA: The president said the U.S. will do its part. Still, his own climate-change policy included in an energy bill that has passed the U.S. House faces big obstacles in the Senate. Carol Browner is the president's energy and climate change czar. She acknowledges that the legislation is competing with other pressing domestic matters.
Ms. CAROL BROWNER (Director, White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy): You know the health care has obviously taken up more time than was originally anticipated.
DON GONYEA: Browner was asked if a climate change bill will make it to the president's desk by 2010.
Ms. BROWNER You know, you all follow Congress, you know, we all know that how the schedule works and Congress can change abruptly. It can go faster. It can go slower. What we need is comprehensive legislation and we're going to do our best to get it as soon as we can.
DON GONYEA: So the test for the president is to find a way to lead on the issue globally, even as he works through conflict at home.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, New York.
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