President Obama said Wednesday that the nations of the world are failing to work together to confront the most pressing challenges of today.
“Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges,” Obama said, in his first speech as president to the U.N. General Assembly. “If we are honest with ourselves, we need to admit that we are not living up to that responsibility.” Obama cited issues such as terrorism, long-running conflicts, nuclear proliferation, climate change, poverty and pandemic disease, then added: “The magnitude of our challenges has yet to be met by the measure of our action.” Obama said Iran and North Korea “must be held accountable” if they continue to ignore international nuclear weapons treaties. “If the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards; if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East — then they must be held accountable,” Obama said. “The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced,” he continued. “We must insist that the future not belong to fear.” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s controversial president, was scheduled to speak early Wednesday evening. An Israeli official has called on leaders to leave the U.N. General Assembly when he delivers his address.
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“We call on world leaders to leave plenum when Ahmadinejad begins rant and not give legitimacy to the most dangerous anti-Semite since Hitler,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon posted on Twitter. Obama made a strong call for renewed efforts to reach a Middle East agreement that creates a secure Israel and an independent Palestinian state. “The time has come to re-launch negotiations — without preconditions — that address the permanent-status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians; borders, refugees and Jerusalem,” he said. “The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.” His statement prompted applause, and Obama received an ovation when he later stated: “The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. “And nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks against Israel over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security.” Others on the agenda Wednesday are Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Watch “amazing array” of world leaders attending session Iran recently reiterated its unwillingness to give up its nuclear program, which the United States and other Western nations fear is being used to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is strictly for civilian power. Fresh off the plane in New York, Ahmadinejad said the nuclear issue was not on his agenda, though he would not avoid or prevent a discussion on the topic. “We will pursue the nuclear issue only through the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], because that provides the legal framework and it’s the law,” Ahmadinejad said in an Associated Press television interview Tuesday night. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that Iran’s failure to prove that its nuclear program will not be used for military purposes remains a source of “deep concern” to the international community. She promised continuing “costs” for Iran in the form of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions if Tehran does not allow greater international oversight of the program. At the same time, Clinton defended the U.S. administration’s decision to open the door to talks with the Iranian government, which has been criticized for cracking down on domestic political opponents in the wake of its disputed June presidential election. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said she didn’t expect a direct meeting between Obama and Ahmadinejad at the U.N. session. In the opening speech of the General Assembly’s annual debate, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged global leaders to unite and work together to face many of the world’s challenges. Ban focused on the importance of tackling climate change, nuclear disarmament, and poverty. He also touched on conflicts and problems in hotspots across the world, such as Somalia, Myanmar, Gaza, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “Amid many crises … food, energy, recession and pandemic flu, hitting all at once … the world looks to us for answers. If ever there were a time to act in a spirit of renewed multilateralism … a moment to create a United Nations of genuine collective action … it is now,” he said. In his address, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva elaborated on the ongoing economic crisis, lack of democratic world governance and the threat of climate change.
Obama will lead a special session of the U.N. Security Council dealing with nuclear issues on Thursday. He will also travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the Group of 20 summit, where he will host a two-day meeting of representatives of the world’s largest economies.