Obama Reaffirms Commitment To Aid Poor Nations

President Obama says he's overhauling the way the U.S. aids poor nations around the world and stepping up its commitment to fight hunger and disease. Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Michele Kelemen about the president's U.N. speech.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And I'm David Greene.

President Obama arrived at the United Nations this afternoon, for the gathering of the general assembly. He weighed in on the main topic of this years meeting: how to help countries fight extreme poverty and hunger and meet eight development goals the U.N. set out a decade ago. In his remarks, Mr. Obama laid out what he called a new approach.

President BARACK OBAMA: For too long weve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines we delivered. But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop moving from poverty to prosperity. And we need more than just aid to unleash that change. We need to harness all the tools at our disposal from our diplomacy to our trade policies, to our investment policies.

GRTEENE: That was President Obama, speaking today at the U.N.

SIEGEL: There are many other issues being discussed on the sidelines at the United Nations, including Iran and Middle East peace talks. And joining us now to talk about all of that is NPR's Michele Kelemen. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Nice to be here.

SIEGEL: And, first of all, tell us about a meeting today on Iran. What is the U.S. talking about with its partners?

KELEMEN: It was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting with her counterparts from the European Union, U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany. And I was told by one diplomat that it was mainly a meeting to make sure everyones one the same page but also to figure out ways to, as he put it, raise the game with Iran, to get Iran into a real dialogue about its suspect nuclear program.

This group has their pressure track. They got sanctions past recently in the United Nations Security Council, but they haven't really gotten far in the engagement side, and that's what they say they're serious about.

SIEGEL: Well, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is at the U.N. Has he given any indication that he is ready to negotiate?

KELEMEN: So far his appearances have been sort of a repeat of past years -denying that Iran is seeking a nuclear bomb, brushing off sanctions - but he has said that he is ready to talk, that this is going to be inevitable. One of the problems is that Iran's nuclear negotiator is apparently not here in town, and that's the one who this diplomatic grouping wants to meet.

Privately, some diplomats say that the problem is that the U.S. won't meet with Ahmadinejad, so there's no point in really setting up a dialogue here in New York. What they're looking for is an early meeting, most likely in Europe, and again, with the nuclear negotiator, not with Ahmadinejad.

SIEGEL: Now, onto the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians have just begun direct talks, but there is a danger that they could collapse if Israel doesn't extend the moratorium on settlement building. Is the U.S. getting anywhere on that front?

KELEMEN: Well, interestingly, you know, I'm getting the sense that the U.S. is really much more focused on this than on Iran this week.

Secretary Clinton met yesterday with what's called the Middle East quartet, that's another diplomatic grouping. It includes the U.S., Russia, European Union and U.N. And this group did call on Israel to extend the moratorium. The Palestinians have threatened to walk out if the settlement building resumes, but they also seem to be walking back a little bit from that threat.

U.S. negotiator George Mitchell has been holding various meetings with negotiators on both sides, meeting separately and jointly with the Israelis and Palestinians.

Officials say that both sides want to keep these talks going. How they're going to finesse this issue we really still don't know. But that's obviously a big part of the conversations on the side.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen, speaking to us from the United Nations.

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