President Obama Addresses the United Nations

President Obama Addresses the United Nations


President Obama:
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary
General, my fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great honor to address
this Assembly for the second time, nearly two years after
my election as President of the United States. We know this is no ordinary
time for our people. Each of us comes here with our
own problems and priorities. But there are also challenges
that we share in common as leaders and as nations. We meet within an institution
built from the rubble of war, designed to unite the
world in pursuit of peace. And we meet within a city that
for centuries has welcomed people from across the globe,
demonstrating that individuals of every color, faith and
station can come together to pursue opportunity, build a
community, and live with the blessing of human liberty. Outside the doors of this hall,
the blocks and neighborhoods of this great city tell the
story of a difficult decade. Nine years ago, the destruction
of the World Trade Center signaled a threat that
respected no boundary of dignity or decency. Two years ago this month,
a financial crisis on Wall Street devastated American
families on Main Street. These separate challenges have
affected people around the globe. Men and women and children have
been murdered by extremists from Casablanca to London; from
Jalalabad to Jakarta. The global economy suffered
an enormous blow during the financial crisis, crippling
markets and deferring the dreams of millions on every continent. Underneath these challenges to
our security and prosperity lie deeper fears: that ancient
hatreds and religious divides are once again ascendant; that
a world which has grown more interconnected has somehow
slipped beyond our control. These are some of the challenges
that my administration has confronted since we
came into office. And today, I’d like to talk to
you about what we’ve done over the last 20 months to meet these challenges; what our responsibility is to pursue peace in the Middle East; and what kind of world we are trying to build in this 21st century. Let me begin with
what we have done. I have had no greater
focus as President than rescuing our economy from
potential catastrophe. And in an age when prosperity is
shared, we could not do this alone. So America has joined with
nations around the world to spur growth, and the renewed demand
that could restart job creation. We are reforming our system of
global finance, beginning with Wall Street reform here at home, so that a crisis like this never happens again. And we made the G20 the focal
point for international coordination, because in a
world where prosperity is more diffuse, we must broaden our
circle of cooperation to include emerging economies — economies
from every corner of the globe. There is much to show for our
efforts, even as there is much work to be done. The global economy has been
pulled back from the brink of a depression, and
is growing once more. We have resisted protectionism,
and are exploring ways to expand trade and commerce among nations. But we cannot — and will not — rest until these seeds of progress grow into a broader
prosperity, not only for all Americans, but for
peoples around the globe. As for our common security,
America is waging a more effective fight against al
Qaeda, while winding down the war in Iraq. Since I took office, the
United States has removed nearly 100,000 troops from Iraq. We have done so responsibly,
as Iraqis have transitioned to lead responsibility for the
security of their country. We are now focused on building
a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while keeping our
commitment to remove the rest of our troops by the
end of next year. While drawing down in Iraq, we
have refocused on defeating al Qaeda and denying its
affiliates a safe haven. In Afghanistan, the United
States and our allies are pursuing a strategy to break the
Taliban’s momentum and build the capacity of Afghanistan’s
government and security forces, so that a transition to
Afghan responsibility can begin next July. And from South Asia to the Horn
of Africa, we are moving toward a more targeted approach — one
that strengthens our partners and dismantles terrorist
networks without deploying large American armies. As we pursue the world’s most
dangerous extremists, we’re also denying them the world’s most
dangerous weapons, and pursuing the peace and security of a
world without nuclear weapons. Earlier this year, 47 nations
embraced a work-plan to secure all vulnerable nuclear
materials within four years. We have joined with Russia to
sign the most comprehensive arms control treaty in decades. We have reduced the role
of nuclear weapons in our security strategy. And here, at the United
Nations, we came together to strengthen the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty. As part of our effort on
non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran
an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has
both rights and responsibilities as a member of the
international community. I also said — in this hall — that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to
meet those responsibilities. And that is what we have done. Iran is the only party to the
NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions
of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through U.N. Security
Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that
international law is not an empty promise. Now let me be clear once more:
The United States and the international community seek a
resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains
open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must
demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the
world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program. As we combat the spread of
deadly weapons, we’re also confronting the specter
of climate change. After making historic
investments in clean energy and efficiency at home,
we helped forge an accord in Copenhagen that — for the first time — commits all major economies to
reduce their emissions. We are keenly aware this
is just a first step. And going forward, we will
support a process in which all major economies meet our
responsibilities to protect the planet while unleashing
the power of clean energy to serve as an engine of
growth and development. America has also embraced unique
responsibilities with come — that come with our power. Since the rains came and the
floodwaters rose in Pakistan, we have pledged our assistance,
and we should all support the Pakistani people as they
recover and rebuild. And when the earth shook and
Haiti was devastated by loss, we joined a coalition
of nations in response. Today, we honor those from the
U.N. family who lost their lives in the earthquake, and commit
ourselves to stand with the people of Haiti until they can
stand on their own two feet. Amidst this upheaval, we
have also been persistent in our pursuit of peace. Last year, I pledged my best
efforts to support the goal of two states, Israel and
Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, as part
of a comprehensive peace between Israel and all of its neighbors. We have travelled a winding road
over the last 12 months, with few peaks and many valleys. But this month, I am pleased
that we have pursued direct negotiations between Israelis
and Palestinians in Washington, Sharm el Sheikh and Jerusalem. Now I recognize many are
pessimistic about this process. The cynics say that Israelis and
Palestinians are too distrustful of each other, and
too divided internally, to forge lasting peace. Rejectionists on both sides
will try to disrupt the process, with bitter words and with
bombs and with gunfire. Some say that the gaps between
the parties are too big; the potential for talks to break
down is too great; and that after decades of failure,
peace is simply not possible. I hear those voices
of skepticism. But I ask you to
consider the alternative. If an agreement is not reached,
Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that
comes with their own state. Israelis will never know the
certainty and security that comes with sovereign and
stable neighbors who are committed to coexistence. The hard realities of
demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain
a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity. I refuse to accept that future. And we all have
a choice to make. Each of us must choose
the path of peace. Of course, that responsibility
begins with the parties themselves, who must
answer the call of history. Earlier this month at the White
House, I was struck by the words of both the Israeli
and Palestinian leaders. Prime Minister Netanyahu said,
“I came here today to find a historic compromise that will
enable both people to live in peace, security, and dignity.” And President Abbas said, “We
will spare no effort and we will work diligently and tirelessly
to ensure these negotiations achieve their cause.” These words must now be
followed by action and I believe that both leaders
have the courage to do so. But the road that they have to
travel is exceedingly difficult, which is why I call upon
Israelis and Palestinians — and the world — to rally
behind the goal that these leaders now share. We know that there will be tests
along the way and that one test is fast approaching. Israel’s settlement moratorium
has made a difference on the ground and improved the
atmosphere for talks. And our position on this
issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium
should be extended. We also believe that talks
should press on until completed. Now is the time for the
parties to help each other overcome this obstacle. Now is the time to build the trust — and provide the time — for substantial progress to be made. Now is the time for this
opportunity to be seized, so that it does not slip away. Now, peace must be made by
Israelis and Palestinians, but each of us has a responsibility
to do our part as well. Those of us who are friends
of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish
state requires an independent Palestine — one that allows the
Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity. And those of us who are friends
of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of
the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means — including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel. I know many in this hall
count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges of friendship
must now be supported by deeds. Those who have signed on to the
Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make
it real by taking tangible steps towards the normalization
that it promises Israel. And those who speak on behalf
of Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian
Authority politically and financially, and in doing so
help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state. Those who long to see an
independent Palestine must also stop trying
to tear down Israel. After thousands of years, Jews
and Arabs are not strangers in a strange land. After 60 years in the community
of nations, Israel’s existence must not be a
subject for debate. Israel is a sovereign state,
and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. It should be clear to all that
efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by
the unshakeable opposition of the United States. And efforts to threaten or kill
Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people. The slaughter of innocent
Israelis is not resistance — it’s injustice. And make no mistake: The courage
of a man like President Abbas, who stands up for his people in
front of the world under very difficult circumstances, is
far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent
women and children. The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution. And we can come back here next
year, as we have for the last 60 years, and make
long speeches about it. We can read familiar
lists of grievances. We can table the
same resolutions. We can further empower the
forces of rejectionism and hate. And we can waste more time by
carrying forward an argument that will not help a single
Israeli or Palestinian child achieve a better life. We can do that. Or, we can say that this time
will be different — that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way. This time, we will think not of
ourselves, but of the young girl in Gaza who wants to have no
ceiling on her dreams, or the young boy in Sderot who wants
to sleep without the nightmare of rocket fire. This time, we should draw upon
the teachings of tolerance that lie at the heart of three great
religions that see Jerusalem’s soil as sacred. This time we should reach for
what’s best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back
here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a
new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign
state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel. (applause) It is our destiny to bear the
burdens of the challenges that I’ve addressed — recession
and war and conflict. And there is always a sense of urgency — even emergency — that drives most of our foreign policies. Indeed, after millennia marked
by wars, this very institution reflects the desire of human
beings to create a forum to deal with emergencies that
will inevitably come. But even as we confront
immediate challenges, we must also summon the foresight to
look beyond them, and consider what we are trying to
build over the long term? What is the world that awaits us
when today’s battles are brought to an end? And that is what I would like to
talk about with the remainder of my time today. One of the first actions of this
General Assembly was to adopt a Universal Declaration
of Human Rights in 1948. That Declaration begins by
stating that, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the
equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family
is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace
in the world.” The idea is a simple one —
that freedom, justice and peace for the world must begin
with freedom, justice, and peace in the lives of
individual human beings. And for the United States,
this is a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity. As Robert Kennedy said, “the
individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value,
and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit.” So we stand up for universal
values because it’s the right thing to do. But we also know from experience
that those who defend these values for their people have
been our closest friends and allies, while those who have
denied those rights — whether terrorist groups or tyrannical governments — have chosen to be our adversaries. Human rights have never gone
unchallenged — not in any of our nations, and
not in our world. Tyranny is still with us —
whether it manifests itself in the Taliban killing girls who
try to go to school, a North Korean regime that enslaves its
own people, or an armed group in Congo-Kinshasa that use
rape as a weapon of war. In times of economic unease,
there can also be an anxiety about human rights. Today, as in past times of
economic downturn, some put human rights aside for the
promise of short term stability or the false notion that
economic growth can come at the expense of freedom. We see leaders
abolishing term limits. We see crackdowns
on civil society. We see corruption
smothering entrepreneurship and good governance. We see democratic reforms
deferred indefinitely. As I said last year, each
country will pursue a path rooted in the culture
of its own people. Yet experience shows us that
history is on the side of liberty; that the strongest
foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open
societies, and open governments. To put it simply, democracy,
more than any other form of government, delivers
for our citizens. And I believe that truth will
only grow stronger in a world where the borders between
nations are blurred. America is working to shape
a world that fosters this openness, for the rot of a
closed or corrupt economy must never eclipse the energy and
innovation of human beings. All of us want the right to
educate our children, to make a decent wage, to care for the
sick, and to be carried as far as our dreams and our
deeds will take us. But that depends upon economies
that tap the power of our people, including the
potential of women and girls. That means letting entrepreneurs
start a business without paying a bribe and governments that
support opportunity instead of stealing from their people. And that means rewarding
hard work, instead of reckless risk-taking. Yesterday, I put forward a new
development policy that will pursue these goals, recognizing
that dignity is a human right and global development is
in our common interest. America will partner with
nations that offer their people a path out of poverty. And together, we must unleash
growth that powers by individuals and emerging markets
in all parts of the globe. There is no reason why Africa
should not be an exporter of agriculture, which is why our
food security initiative is empowering farmers. There is no reason why
entrepreneurs shouldn’t be able to build new markets in every
society, which is why I hosted a summit on entrepreneurship
earlier this spring, because the obligation of
government is to empower individuals, not to impede them. The same holds true
for civil society. The arc of human progress has
been shaped by individuals with the freedom to assemble and
by organizations outside of government that insisted upon
democratic change and by free media that held the
powerful accountable. We have seen that from the
South Africans who stood up to apartheid, to the Poles
of Solidarity, to the mothers of the disappeared who spoke
out against the Dirty War, to Americans who marched
for the rights of all races, including my own. Civil society is the conscience
of our communities and America will always extend our
engagement abroad with citizens beyond the halls of government. And we will call out those who
suppress ideas and serve as a voice for those
who are voiceless. We will promote new tools of
communication so people are empowered to connect with one
another and, in repressive societies, to do
so with security. We will support a free and open
Internet, so individuals have the information to make
up their own minds. And it is time to embrace and
effectively monitor norms that advance the rights of civil
society and guarantee its expansion within
and across borders. Open society supports open
government, but it cannot substitute for it. There is no right more
fundamental than the ability to choose your leaders
and determine your destiny. Now, make no mistake: The
ultimate success of democracy in the world won’t come because
the United States dictates it; it will come because individual
citizens demand a say in how they are governed. There is no soil where this
notion cannot take root, just as every democracy reflects
the uniqueness of a nation. Later this fall, I
will travel to Asia. And I will visit India,
which peacefully threw off colonialism and established
a thriving democracy of over a billion people. I’ll continue to Indonesia, the
world’s largest Muslim-majority country, which binds together
thousands of islands through the glue of representative
government and civil society. I’ll join the G20 meeting
on the Korean Peninsula, which provides the world’s
clearest contrast between a society that is dynamic and
open and free, and one that is imprisoned and closed. And I will conclude my trip in
Japan, an ancient culture that found peace and extraordinary
development through democracy. Each of these countries gives
life to democratic principles in their own way. And even as some governments
roll back reform, we also celebrate the courage of a
President in Colombia who willingly stepped aside,
or the promise of a new constitution in Kenya. The common thread of progress is
the principle that government is accountable to its citizens. And the diversity in this room
makes clear — no one country has all the answers, but
all of us must answer to our own people. In all parts of the world, we
see the promise of innovation to make government more
open and accountable. And now, we must build
on that progress. And when we gather back here
next year, we should bring specific commitments to
promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic
engagement; to leverage new technologies so that we
strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries,
while living up to the ideals that can light the world. This institution can still play
an indispensable role in the advance of human rights. It’s time to welcome the
efforts of U.N. Women to protect the rights of
women around the globe. (applause) It’s time for every member
state to open its elections to international monitors and
increase the U.N. Democracy Fund. It’s time to reinvigorate U.N.
peacekeeping, so that missions have the resources
necessary to succeed, and so atrocities like sexual
violence are prevented and justice is enforced —
because neither dignity nor democracy can thrive
without basic security. And it’s time to make this
institution more accountable as well, because the challenges of
a new century demand new ways of serving our common interests. The world that America seeks is
not one we can build on our own. For human rights to reach
those who suffer the boot of oppression, we need
your voices to speak out. In particular, I appeal to those
nations who emerged from tyranny and inspired the world in the
second half of the last century — from South Africa to
South Asia; from Eastern Europe to South America. Don’t stand idly by, don’t
be silent, when dissidents elsewhere are imprisoned
and protesters are beaten. Recall your own history. Because part of the price of
our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others. That belief will guide America’s
leadership in this 21st century. It is a belief that has seen us
through more than two centuries of trial, and it will see
us through the challenges we face today — be it war or
recession; conflict or division. So even as we have come through
a difficult decade, I stand here before you confident in the
future — a future where Iraq is governed by neither tyrant nor a foreign power, and Afghanistan is freed from the turmoil of war; a future where the children of Israel and Palestine can build the peace that was not possible for their parents; a world where the promise of development reaches into the prisons of poverty and disease; a future where the cloud of recession gives way to the light of renewal and the dream of opportunity is available to all. This future will not
be easy to reach. It will not come without
setbacks, nor will it be quickly claimed. But the founding of the United
Nations itself is a testament to human progress. Remember, in times that were far
more trying than our own, our predecessors chose the hope of
unity over the ease of division and made a promise to future
generations that the dignity and equality of human beings
would be our common cause. It falls to us to
fulfill that promise. And though we will be met by
dark forces that will test our resolve, Americans have always
had cause to believe that we can choose a better history; that
we need only to look outside the walls around us. For through the citizens of
every conceivable ancestry who make this city their own, we see
living proof that opportunity can be accessed by all, that
what unites us as human beings is far greater than what divides
us, and that people from every part of this world can
live together in peace. Thank you very much. (applause)

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