Obama Dominates World Stage From New York

President Obama speaks at the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, the president delivered a speech on climate change, met privately with China's president and pressed the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to restart peace talks.

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President Obama speaks at the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this morning. We got a sample of the topics he's dealing with during a very busy day yesterday. He delivered a speech on climate change, he met privately with China's president, and he pressed the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to restart peace talks.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: Amid all of the activities surrounding the opening session of the U.N., it seems that President Obama is always front and center. Yesterday was a day of frenetic activity. First thing in the morning, his motorcade rolled from the Waldorf Astoria to the U.N. for the Climate Change Summit. Then it was back to the hotel for an important set of meetings on the Middle East.

First it was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, followed by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Afterward, the president stood with both leaders and spoke in a tone that sounded almost scolding.

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: The president then added…

Pres. OBAMA: Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward. We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back.

GONYEA: Still, there were no assurances or commitments to resume talks, though following the photo-op, these leaders held one more meeting, this time all three of them together. The president's special envoy to the Middle East, former Senator George Mitchell, says the fact that that final session even took place is very positive.

Mr. GEORGE MITCHELL (Special Envoy to the Middle East): This was the first meeting between Israelis and Palestinians at this level in nearly a year. Even nine months ago, such a meeting did not seem possible.

GONYEA: But the Middle East is also a reminder that despite President Obama's popularity around the world, such problems are as difficult and vexing as ever. The president's day Tuesday also included a sit down with China's President Hu. The U.S. and China are currently involved in a trade dispute over imported Chinese-made tires. A trade war may still erupt.

A White House official said the topic came up, there remained differences, but he said both sides have agreed to consult closely to avoid future disputes. He said they did talk about how to address the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons and the belief that Iran is trying to develop such weapons. President Obama's final event yesterday was the fifth annual Clinton Global Initiative Conference hosted by former President Bill Clinton.

President BILL CLINTON: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to follow protocol. You know what it is? It's my high honor to present the president of the United States.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: The Clinton conference this year is focusing on the global economic downturn and its impact on everything from world poverty to education to efforts to address climate change. Mr. Obama praised the organization for the work it has done.

Pres. OBAMA: The greenhouse gasses you've cut, the entrepreneurs you've empowered with microloans, all the people, many of them children, you've helped to lead healthier, more productive lives, more than 200 million in more than 150 countries. That's the meaning of service. That's the difference we can make.

GONYEA: Expect that theme to play a role in the president's speech to the U.N. General Assembly later this morning.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, New York.

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