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At U.N., Obama Faces Palestinian Challenge

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At U.N., Obama Faces Palestinian Challenge


At U.N., Obama Faces Palestinian Challenge

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene in Washington.


And I'm Steve Inskeep in New York.

World leaders are meeting at the United Nations here, and they face one of the same questions they have faced through almost all the history of the U.N. It's how to move toward a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This week, Palestinians still say they plan to seek U.N. recognition as a state, despite U.S. diplomatic efforts and warnings that it's a mistake.

The effort leaves the United States and, in particular, President Obama, in an extremely awkward situation.

And NPR's Ari Shapiro is here to talk about it. Good morning, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What makes this so awkward for the president?

SHAPIRO: Well, President Obama has promised to veto the Palestinian's move. And that puts the U.S. on sound footing with Israel but on a collision course with European and Mid Eastern allies who support the Palestinians' bid. Although most of that conflict and dissent has been happening the last couple of days, out of sight, behind closed doors.

For example, yesterday, President Obama met with the Turkey's prime minister. Turkey is one of the main American allies who supports the Palestinians. But when reporters were in the room at the beginning of that meeting, neither man said a word about Palestine. According to White House officials, they talked about it, but only behind closed doors after the reporters had left.

INSKEEP: So, behind closed doors, you have the president with the same difficulty that he tried to transcend at the beginning of his administration, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. That's what's happening behind closed doors, what about on the public agenda?

SHAPIRO: Well, the day began yesterday, with an issue, where, in contrast to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, President Obama congratulated the international community on presenting a unified front and getting a positive result.

BARACK OBAMA: Libya is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one.

SHAPIRO: Representatives from more than 60 governments gathered in a huge U.N. conference room to create a plan for post-Gadhafi Libya.


SHAPIRO: The crowd gave a standing ovation when the U.N. and Libyan flags were presented side-by-side on the podium.


SHAPIRO: President Obama framed this as a moment of vindication. Domestic critics had attacked his approach to Libya for months. But addressing the U.N. yesterday, the president said Libya's freedom today affirms his approach to global problems, emphasizing shared international responsibility.

OBAMA: Today I can announce that our ambassador is on his way back to Tripoli. And this week, the American flag that was lowered before our embassy was attacked, will be raised again over a reopened American Embassy.

SHAPIRO: Mr. Obama pledged that the world will stand with Libya as it transitions to democracy.

He then left the U.N. for his hotel, and a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber had killed Afghanistan's former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. He'd been in charge of finding a political end to the decade-old war.

Mr. Obama, standing on the opposite side of the room from reporters with their microphones, promised that such violence will not change the U.S. mission.

OBAMA: Despite this incident, we will not be deterred from creating a path whereby Afghans can live in freedom and safety and security and prosperity.

SHAPIRO: Still, the assassination underscores the serious problems that still exist in Afghanistan, as the U.S. tries to hand the country back over to the Afghans. This was the first time Presidents Karzai and Obama met in person since the U.S. established a timeline for troop withdrawal.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes says that troop drawdown, and the exit from Iraq, will be two themes of President Obama's speech to the General Assembly today. Broadly, Rhodes says, the address will take stock of where we are as an international community.

He will speak to the enormous convulsions and transformation of the last year - whether it be the Arab Spring, whether it be South Sudan joining the United Nations, and of course the Libya operation which really, again, represents precisely the type of international cooperation that the president believes the United Nations was created to do.

INSKEEP: That's White House advisor Ben Rhodes. NPR's Ari Shapiro still here with us here in New York.

And, Ari, talking about all those complexities, all those convulsions, and yet some of the same old conflicts.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, it brings us back to the Palestinian quest for statehood and the fine line that President Obama has to walk today, where on his right flank he's accused of not being pro-Israel enough by people like Rick Perry who was here in New York yesterday, attacking his position on Israel. To his left, international allies say President Obama is behaving inconsistently by supporting self-determination in some Arab countries, but not supporting it for the Palestinians.

Today is President Obama's chance to explain why he holds the position he does. Then he's going to have individual meetings with Israeli leader Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Abbas, and perhaps dream of the day when he might meet with both at once.

INSKEEP: Ari, thanks very much. We'll hear how the President charts a course between those two in his speech today.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ari Shapiro here in New York.

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