Obama Calls For Global Response To Global Challenges

President Obama delivered his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York Wednesday. He stated that American foreign policy has changed, and he bluntly said that the U.S. can't be expected to take on difficult world problems alone.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is in Northern California today with our member station KQED. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

On issue after issue this week, President Obama has to craft a message for many audiences. And they include American voters represented by lawmakers here in Washington.

INSKEEP: Another audience is world leaders meeting at the United Nations here in New York. Many take their seats today at the meeting table of the U.N. Security Council. President Obama will chair it. And here's one way to summarize the president's message so far. We are changing, now it's your turn.

NPR's Don Gonyea is covering the president. Don, Good morning.

DON GONYEA: Glad to be here.

INSKEEP: Let's start with a piece of tape from the president's speech yesterday to the United Nations General Assembly.

President BARACK OBAMA: Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone. We have sought in word and deed a new era of engagement with the world. And now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.

INSKEEP: Saying time to take responsibility. Kind of a stern message, Don.

GONYEA: It wasn't exactly the new guy making nice his first time in the house. Someone described it as a put up or shut up speech for the president. And as I watched it, I couldn't help but think of someone Mr. Obama did not name yesterday - his predecessor, George W. Bush. There were all the charges of American unilateralism under under President Bush, the big one being obviously the Iraq war. But Mr. Obama was basically saying in not so many words, don't bring those past grievances to me.

INSKEEP: Because I'm acting differently, he says. Although how did he address the distrust of the United States that has grown up overseas in recent years?

GONYEA: It's interesting. Near the top of his speech, he acknowledged all of the excitement and anticipation around the world that this change of leadership in America has, has brought about. The intense interest in him. But beyond that, he ticked off some things he said he has done in the nine months that he has been in office, just to show how different he is.

He said the U.S. will not engage in torture. He has moved to close Guantanamo Bay, though it hasn't happened yet. U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by 2011 -the end of 2011. And he was cheered when he said the U.S. has even made good on its past due debt to the U.N. itself. But again, all of that was mixed in a very direct message that when something needs to be done, the U.S. won't do it alone, it can't do it alone, everybody needs to step up.

INSKEEP: Okay, where exactly then is the president looking for help?

GONYEA: He said he was putting forth four pillars that are fundamental to the future. That was the rhetorical device. Nonproliferation and disarmament - he said the U.S. has pledged to work with Russia to substantially reduce arsenals. Now each country needs to secure any nuclear materials within their borders, the big thing there being to make sure nothing falls into the hands of terrorists. He said the U.N. needs to strengthen peacekeeping efforts focusing on prevention of conflicts. There's the environment. He said even developing countries need to be required to meet certain standards and. Of course he cited the troubled global economy, said each country need to look at its own financial markets. But as much as anything, he spoke of how the U.N. needs to approach this. Give a listen to the president.

Pres. OBAMA: We can be remembered as a generation that chose to drag the arguments of the 20th century into the 21st, that put off our choices, refused to look ahead, failed to keep pace because we defined ourselves by what we were against instead of what we were for. Or we can be a generation that chooses to see the shoreline beyond the rough waters ahead, that comes together to serve the common interests of human beings.

INSKEEP: That's the president yesterday. Don, let's talk about one particular set of rough waters though, Iran. What was he saying there?

GONYEA: He was equally stern. He said Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons takes the world down a dangerous slope. He said he is committed to diplomacy but that the U.N. needs to stand together.

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