At U.N., Obama Challenges World Leaders
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
President Obama gave his first-ever speech to the United Nations General Assembly today. Mr. Obama described a break from the recent past, when the U.S. was often criticized for acting alone. He said international cooperation is critical. He also issued a pointed challenge to the gathered heads of state to do their part to work with America.
NPR's Don Gonyea is in New York, and he sent us this report.
DON GONYEA: There's been a lot of buzz in New York this week as President Obama prepared for his first experience at the U.N. Crowds on street corners craned their necks when his motorcade passed. Foreign leaders angled for one-on-one meetings. Mr. Obama's election and his subsequent world travels have created a great deal of excitement internationally. The president acknowledged the subject at the very top of his speech today.
President BARACK OBAMA: I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. And these expectations are not about me.
GONYEA: Rather, he said, it's about discontent with the status quo. It was an indirect reference to the tensions over the Iraq War and other policies of former President George W. Bush, who Mr. Obama did not mention specifically. He said there was a belief that on certain issues, the world saw America as acting unilaterally.
Pres. OBAMA: And this has fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often has served as an excuse for collective inaction.
GONYEA: Mr. Obama made it clear things will be different under his leadership. As evidence, he ran through a list: his prohibition of torture, the plan to close Guantanamo Bay, withdrawing combat troops from Iraq in two years, and greater U.S. engagement with the U.N. He also included a line that seemed directed more to critics at home, even as he spoke to these world leaders.
Pres. OBAMA: And like all of you, my responsibility is to act in the interests of my nation and my people, and I will never apologize for defending those interests. But it is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009, more than at any point in human history, the interests of nations and peoples are shared.
GONYEA: The president spoke of a different kind of America, but he was also firm in stating that no nation should simply sit back, or use the U.N. as a forum to point fingers and stoke divisions.
Pres. 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.
GONYEA: The president devoted a portion of the speech to the Middle East conflict, calling on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to start serious negotiations again. Using sharp language, he called on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel. And he said the U.S. does not accept the legitimacy of Israeli settlements.
Pres. OBAMA: Now, I am not naive. I know this will be difficult. But all of us, not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we will only lend it lip service.
GONYEA: Mr. Obama said the world needs to work together to convince Iran and North Korea to forsake nuclear weapons programs. He closed by saying the world has reached a pivotal moment.
Pres. OBAMA: The United States stands ready to begin a new chapter of international cooperation, one that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations. And so with confidence in our cause and with a commitment to our values, we call on all nations to join us in building the future that our people so richly deserve. Thank you very much, everyone.
(Soundbite of applause)
GONYEA: President Obama, addressing the United Nations General Assembly this morning.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, New York.
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