Obama calls for embrace of peace bid
At the U.N., the president calls on Arab nations and Israel to do their part.
At the United Nations, he presses Arab countries not to risk failure of the latest talks between Palestinians and Israelis.
President Obama on Thursday pushed Arab nations to provide more political and financial support for the Middle East peace effort, warning that they should not risk the failure of the latest initiative if they truly seek an independent Palestinian state and stability across the region.
Obama, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, deplored efforts, assisted by some Arab and Muslim countries, to isolate or “delegitimize” Israel.
But Obama also asked for a sacrifice by the Israelis, using the U.N. forum to renew his call for the continuation of Israel’s freeze on construction in disputed areas that is set to expire Sept. 26.
“Our position on this issue is well known,” Obama said. “We believe that the moratorium should be extended. We also believe that talks should press on until completed.”
Those who support selfgovernment of the Palestinians should help the Palestinian Authority by giving political and financial support to build the institutions of their state, Obama said. Compromise will be hard, he said, but it is better than the alternative.
“If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state,” Obama said. “Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to coexistence.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was present in the chamber for Obama’s speech, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not come to New York for the assembly.
The remarks came in a speech in which Obama spoke broadly of the international community’s shared responsibility to support democracy and human rights, and he called upon world leaders not to “stand idly by” as dissidents are imprisoned and protesters are beaten.
He praised his administration’s attempts to fight threats from extremists without deploying large American armies, obliquely referring to a sweeping strategy that includes collaboration with foreign governments and strikes by unmanned aircraft against terrorist targets. The administration does not publicly discuss the drone program.
Obama’s appeal to Arab leaders comes at a time when it appears that the 3-week-old U.S.-led Mideast peace initiative could collapse over the issue of the moratorium. Leaders of the Palestinian Authority have threatened to abandon the negotiations if the moratorium is allowed to expire.
As that issue simmers, the Obama administration has been trying to build support in the Arab world for the peace talks. Without it, the weak Palestinian Authority leadership may not have the stature to make risky and unpopular compromises with the Israelis.
Obama is pressing for cooperation on a range of security and economic matters during his three days at the United Nations.
A constant in all of Obama’s one-on-one meetings with world leaders this week is the push to curtail the Iranian nuclear program, and in his speech the president again called on Tehran to confirm the “peaceful intent” of its nuclear ambitions.
But no single issue seemed more important to Obama this week than peace in the Mideast, an initiative in which he has invested plenty of his personal and political capital.
In his second address to the full assembly since taking office, Obama devoted nearly a third of his time to the peace process, urging not just the principals to compromise but also their neighbors throughout the region and beyond.
By dwelling so much on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Obama probably raised expectations about peace prospects, said Aaron David Miller, a former Mideast peace negotiator now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
“With language like, ‘I refuse to accept that alternative,’ Obama has also placed pressure not just on Abbas and Netanyahu, but on himself,” Miller said. “That’s sometimes unwise.”
Hours after Obama’s appearance, the U.S. delegation walked out of a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he suggested that the U.S. government may have carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to ensure Israel’s survival.
Ahmadinejad said there were three theories about how the attacks happened.
One was that a “powerful and complex terrorist group” had executed them. Another was that “some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East … in order also to save the Zionist regime.”
A third, he said, was that a terrorist group had carried out the attacks, but that the U.S. government supported it and took advantage of the development.
Two U.S. officials listening to the speech rose after the second theory and walked out of the room, trailed by diplomats from some allied countries.
MAKING HIS CASE: President Obama at the U.N. this week. He is pressing for cooperation on security and economic issues during his three-day visit.
OUTSIDE THE U.N.: A supporter of the political opposition in Iran.