Full Text Obama Presidency September 24, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly about Middle East Diplomacy Doctrine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama in Address to the United Nations General Assembly

Source: WH, 9-24-13

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at United Nations General Assembly (September 24, 2013) President Barack Obama delivers remarks during his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, N.Y., Sept. 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

United Nations
New York, New York

10:10 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen:  Each year we come together to reaffirm the founding vision of this institution.  For most of recorded history, individual aspirations were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires.  Divisions of race and religion and tribe were settled through the sword and the clash of armies.  The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.

It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking.  The leaders who built the United Nations were not naïve; they did not think this body could eradicate all wars.  But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble, and with the development of nuclear weapons that could annihilate a planet, they understood that humanity could not survive the course it was on.  And so they gave us this institution, believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts, enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation that would grow stronger over time.

For decades, the United Nations has in fact made a difference — from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children, to brokering peace.  But like every generation of leaders, we face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested.  The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.

For much of my tenure as President, some of our most urgent challenges have revolved around an increasingly integrated global economy, and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime.  Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized, and people are once again being lifted out of poverty.  But this progress is fragile and unequal, and we still have work to do together to assure that our citizens can access the opportunities that they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Together, we’ve also worked to end a decade of war.  Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world.  Today, all of our troops have left Iraq.  Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.

For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war footing.  Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.  We’re transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law, while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.

As a result of this work, and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago.  But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates that dangers remain.  In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall, and our hearts go out to the families of those who have been affected.  In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church.  In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a terrible part of life.  And meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which doesn’t give them the capacity at this point to carry out attacks like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments and diplomats, businesses and civilians all across the globe.

Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended and people grapple with what comes next.  Peaceful movements have too often been answered by violence — from those resisting change and from extremists trying to hijack change.  Sectarian conflict has reemerged.  And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction continues to cast a shadow over the pursuit of peace.

Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully than in Syria.  There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter.  In the face of such carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity — Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd — and the situation spiraled into civil war.

The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge.  Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced.  A peace process is stillborn.  America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis.  Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime.  And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

Now, the crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront.  How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa — conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them?  How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war?  What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct?  What is the role of the United Nations and international law in meeting cries for justice?

Today, I want to outline where the United States of America stands on these issues.  With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons.  When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly.  I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and in the interest of the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the United Nations itself.  The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity.  It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocating in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st.  U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians.  These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods.  It’s an insult to human reason — and to the legitimacy of this institution — to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

Now, I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council.  But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all.  However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue.  And in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.

The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles.  Now there must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so.  If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.  On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.

Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria.  I do not believe that military action — by those within Syria, or by external powers — can achieve a lasting peace.  Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria; that is for the Syrian people to decide.  Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country.  The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy.

It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome that they fear:  an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate.  In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears and concerns of Alawites and other minorities.

We are committed to working this political track.  And as we pursue a settlement, let’s remember this is not a zero-sum endeavor.  We’re no longer in a Cold War.  There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the wellbeing of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring that it does not become a safe haven for terrorists.

I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war.  And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries.  America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million.  No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to rebuild their country, but it can help desperate people to survive.

What broader conclusions can be drawn from America’s policy toward Syria?  I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of American resolve in the region.  Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows we’ve learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes.  In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades:  the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.

I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world.  But these contradictory attitudes have a practical impact on the American people’s support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region — as well as the international community sometimes — to avoid addressing difficult problems themselves.

So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.

We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.  Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people.  Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror.  But when it’s necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attack, we will take direct action.

And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.  Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime.

Now, to say that these are America’s core interests is not to say that they are our only interests.  We deeply believe it is in our interests to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous, and will continue to promote democracy and human rights and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity.  But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action, particularly through military action.  Iraq shows us that democracy cannot simply be imposed by force.  Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community and with the countries and peoples of the region.

So what does this mean going forward?  In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues:  Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.  While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.  This mistrust has deep roots.  Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War.  On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly — or through proxies — taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.

I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight — the suspicions run too deep.  But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Since I took office, I’ve made it clear in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, although we are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  We are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.  Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement.  We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.  But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.  After all, it’s the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place.  And this is not simply an issue between the United States and Iran.  The world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.

But I want to be clear we are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course.  And given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.  For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential — in commerce and culture; in science and education.

We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran, and that is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.  I’ve made it clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state.  Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible.  And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.  But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.

Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state.  On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and incredible potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations.  They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation.  But they too recognize that two states is the only real path to peace — because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

So the time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace.  Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks.  President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state.  Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.

So now the rest of us must be willing to take risks as well.  Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state, and we should say so clearly.  Arab states, and those who supported the Palestinians, must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution and a secure Israel.

All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists throughout the region, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future.  And moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work.  So let’s emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice.  Let’s support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.

Real breakthroughs on these two issues — Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace — would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa.  But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations.  It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations.  And by that measure, it’s clear that all of us have a lot more work to do.

When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope.  And although the United States — like others — was struck by the speed of transition, and although we did not — and in fact could not — dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change.  And we did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful.

Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be.  Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive.  The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it, too, has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy — through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press and civil society and opposition parties.

Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal of power.  In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides.  Our overriding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.

That remains our interest today.  And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counterterrorism.  We’ll continue support in areas like education that directly benefit the Egyptian people.  But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.

And our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point:  The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests.  Nevertheless, we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World.  We believe they are the birthright of every person.  And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited, although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and although we will at times be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency, we will be engaged in the region for the long haul.  For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

And this includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Syria.  We understand such longstanding issues cannot be solved by outsiders; they must be addressed by Muslim communities themselves.  But we’ve seen grinding conflicts come to an end before — most recently in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world.  And so we believe those same sectarian conflicts can be overcome in the Middle East and North Africa.

To summarize, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries.  The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion.  Indeed, as recent debates within the United States over Syria clearly show, the danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or to take on every problem in the region as its own.  The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world — may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake.  I believe America must remain engaged for our own security.  But I also believe the world is better for it.  Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional — in part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.

I must be honest, though.  We’re far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us, that invest in their people instead of a corrupt few; that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute — men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew.  Because from Europe to Asia, from Africa to the Americas, nations that have persevered on a democratic path have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful, and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity.  And I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab world.

This leads me to a final point.  There will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, the violence against civilians so substantial that the international community will be called upon to act.  This will require new thinking and some very tough choices.  While the United Nations was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states.  And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing — places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk, with no hope of protection from their national institutions.

I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect basic human rights.  But we cannot and should not bear that burden alone.  In Mali, we supported both the French intervention that successfully pushed back al Qaeda, and the African forces who are keeping the peace.  In Eastern Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end.  And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action.  Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved, and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.

I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson.  They point to the problems that the country now confronts — a democratically elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land.  And so these critics argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail — look at Libya.  No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens — a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi.  But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qaddafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission?  It’s far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.

We live in a world of imperfect choices.  Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order.  But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye.  While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, while we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica?  If that’s the world that people want to live in, they should say so and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.

But I believe we can embrace a different future.  And if we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better — all of us — at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order.  Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals.  Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules.  Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, not merely its aftermath.  Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized.  And yes, sometimes — although this will not be enough — there are going to be moments where the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occurring.

Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks — one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution and where we all take responsibility.  A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully, and prevent the kinds of wars that our forefathers fought.  A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi; in Peshawar or Damascus.

These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary opportunities.  Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth today can do things today that 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity.  I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off.  And America is with them, partnering to feed the hungry and care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.

I see it across the Pacific region, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation.  I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with the click of a button, and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty, and combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past.  That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa.  It’s happening in Europe and across the Americas.  That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve as well — one where they can focus on opportunity, instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.

Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change — to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history.  Last month, I stood where 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President.  Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world.  Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring?  Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?

I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on.  We’re ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you — firm in the belief that all men and women are in fact created equal, each individual possessed with a dignity and inalienable rights that cannot be denied.  That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope.  And that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
10:52 A.M. EDT

Political Musings September 15, 2013: Secretary of State John Kerry seals deal with Russia over Syria chemical weapons disarmament

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Kerry seals deal with Russia over Syria chemical weapons disarmament (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video
On the third day of talks between the United States and Russia in Geneva, Switzerland about Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, the two countries came to an agreement on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 to destroy Syria’s chemical….READ MORE

Political Headlines September 12, 2013: John Kerry Rejects Syria’s Demand to Drop Threat

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

John Kerry Rejects Syria’s Demand to Drop Threat

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday rejected a call from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the U.S. to drop its threat of force before Syria gives up its chemical weapons.

“President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad’s capacity to deliver these weapon,” Kerry told reporters at the start of a multi-day negotiation with the Russians over how such a disarmament might take place….READ MORE

Political Headlines September 10, 2013: President Barack Obama Pleads His Case on Syria in Address to Nation: ‘I Believe We Should Act’

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Pleads His Case on Syria: ‘I Believe We Should Act’

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Stymied by lagging public opinion and an 11th-hour diplomatic curveball, President Obama Tuesday night argued that he still needs congressional authorization for military strikes against Syria even though its possible he may not have to use it.

“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act,” Obama said during a rare primetime televised address to the nation….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 10, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech Addressing the Nation on Syria

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Watch Live: President Obama’s Address to the Nation on Syria

Source: WH, 9-10-13

Tonight at 9:00 PM ET, President Obama will address the nation from the East Room of the White House.

The President will be speaking about the United States’ response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons that killed more than 1,400 civilians — including more than 400 children.

You can watch the President’s speech live below or on WhiteHouse.gov/Syria.

Pool photo by Evan Vucci

President Obama spoke in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday.

Text

Obama’s Remarks on Syria

Source: NYT, 9-10-13Following is the complete text of President Obama’s speech about Syria from the East Room of the White House on Tuesday, as transcribed by Federal News Service.

MR. OBAMA: My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria, why it matters and where we go from here. Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition and to shape a political settlement.

But I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening, men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war.

This was not always the case. In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust. Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 government that represent 98 percent of humanity.

On August 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity.

No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cellphone pictures and social media accounts from the attack. And humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.

Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area they where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.

Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded. We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack. And the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.

When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other day until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied.

The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.

As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.

If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.

This is not a world we should accept. This is what’s at stake. And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use. That’s my judgment as commander in chief.

But I’m also the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possessed the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress, and I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.

This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.

Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular. After all, I’ve spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them. Our troops are out of Iraq, our troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and I know Americans want all of us in Washington, especially me, to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home, putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class. It’s no wonder, then, that you’re asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me.

First, many of you have asked: Won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.

My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.

Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. As some members of Congress have said, there’s no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.

Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.

Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.

Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation. We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other — any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.

Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights? It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists. But al-Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death. The majority of the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition we work with just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.

Finally, many of you have asked, why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force?

And several people wrote to me, we should not be the world’s policeman. I agree. And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations. But chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

However, over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use.

It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.

I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to met his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closet allies, France and the United Kingdom. And we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.

We’ll also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st. And we will continue to rally support from allies, from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle East who agree on the need for action.

Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture, to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails. And tonight I give thanks again to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.

And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.

To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask: What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way? Franklin Roosevelt once said our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.

Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.

With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Political Headlines August 29, 2013: President Barack Obama Set for Limited Strike on Syria as British Vote No

POLITICAL HEADLINES

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Set for Limited Strike on Syria as British Vote No

Source: NYT, 8-29-13

A United Nations team on Thursday with a sample from one of the sites in the Damascus area where a chemical weapons attack is suspected. World leaders reacted to the heightened expectation of an attack, and Ban Ki-moon urged restraint.
Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters

A United Nations team on Thursday with a sample from one of the sites in the Damascus area where a chemical weapons attack is suspected. World leaders reacted to the heightened expectation of an attack, and Ban Ki-moon urged restraint.

President Obama is ready to pursue a limited military strike even with a rejection of such action by Britain and mounting questions from Congress, officials said….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 5, 2013: President Barack Obama Appoints Susan Rice to Replace Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor

HISTORY MUSINGS

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

Susan Rice to Replace Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-5-13

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Shaking up his foreign policy team, President Obama announced Wednesday that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is resigning and will be replaced by UN Ambassador Susan Rice.

“Susan understands that there’s no substitute for American leadership,” the president said in a Rose Garden ceremony. “She is at once passionate and pragmatic. I think everybody understands Susan is a fierce champion for justice and human dignity, but she’s also mindful that we have to exercise our power wisely and deliberately.”…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency June 5, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech Appointing Susan Rice as National Security Advisor & Samantha Powers as UN United Nations Ambassador

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Announces New National Security Team Members

Source: WH, 6-5-13

Watch this video on YouTube

Speaking this afternoon from the Rose Garden, President Obama announced several changes to his national security team.
President Obama Makes a National Security Personnel Announcement

President Obama Makes a National Security Personnel Announcement

 

Remarks by the Presid

 

President Barack Obama talks with, from left, Samantha Power, former Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and Ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in the Oval Office, June 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 

Featured in the Following Photo Galleries:

ent in Personnel Announcement

Source: WH, 6-5-13 

Rose Garden

2:17 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Please, everybody have a seat.  Well, good afternoon.  It is a beautiful day, and it’s good to see so many friends here.

Of all the jobs in government, leading my national security team is certainly one of the most demanding, if not the most demanding.  And since the moment I took office, I’ve counted on the exceptional experience and insights of Tom Donilon.  Nearly every day for the past several years I’ve started each morning with Tom leading the presidential daily brief, hundreds of times, a sweeping assessment of global developments and the most pressing challenges.  As my National Security Advisor his portfolio is literally the entire world.

He has definitely advanced our strategic foreign policy initiatives while at the same time having to respond to unexpected crises, and that happens just about every day.  He’s overseen and coordinated our entire national security team across the government, a Herculean task.  And it’s non-stop — 24/7, 365 days a year.

Today, I am wistful to announce that after more than four years of extraordinary service, Tom has decided to step aside at the beginning of July.  And I am extraordinarily proud to announce my new National Security Advisor, our outstanding Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice — (applause) — as well as my nominee to replace Susan in New York, Samantha Power.  (Applause.)

When I first asked Tom to join my team, I knew I was getting one of our nation’s premier foreign policy leaders, somebody with a deep sense of history and a keen understanding of our nation’s place in the world.  He shared my view that in order to renew American leadership for the 21st century, we had to fundamentally rebalance our foreign policy.  And more than that, he knew how we could do it.

See, Tom is that rare combination of the strategic and the tactical.  He has a strategic sense of where we need to go, and he has a tactical sense of how to get there.

Moreover, Tom’s work ethic is legendary.  He began his public service in the Carter White House when he was just 22 years old — and, somehow, he has been able to maintain the same drive, and the same stamina, and the same enthusiasm and reverence for serving in government.  He has helped shape every single national security policy of my presidency — from forging a new national security strategy rooted in our economic strength here at home to ending the war in Iraq.  Here at the White House, Tom oversaw the operation that led us to bin Laden.  He’s helped keep our transition on track as we wind down the war in Afghanistan.

At the same time, Tom has played a critical role as we’ve bolstered the enduring pillars of American power — strengthening our alliances, from Europe to Asia; enhancing our relationship with key powers; and moving ahead with new trade agreements and energy partnerships.  And from our tough sanctions on Iran to our unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation with Israel — (baby cries) — it’s true –  (laughter) — from New START with Russia to deeper partnerships with emerging powers like India, to stronger ties with the Gulf states, Tom has been instrumental every step of the way.

I’m especially appreciative to Tom for helping us renew American leadership in the Asia Pacific, where so much of our future security and prosperity will be shaped.  He has worked tirelessly to forge a constructive relationship with China that advances our interests and our values.  And I’m grateful that Tom will be joining me as I meet with President Xi of China this week.

And finally, Tom, I am personally grateful for your advice, for your counsel, and most of all for your friendship.  Whenever we sit down together — whether it’s in the Oval Office or the Situation Room — I do so knowing that you have led a rigorous process:  that you’ve challenged assumptions, that you’ve asked the tough questions, that you’ve led an incredibly hard-working national security staff, and presented me with a range of options to advance our national interests.  A President can’t ask for anything more than that, and this is a testament to your incredible professionalism, but also your deep love of country.

I know that this relentless pace has meant sacrifices for your family — for Cathy, who is here, Dr. Biden’s former Chief of Staff, who I was proud to nominate as our new Global Ambassador for Women; and for Tom and Cathy’s wonderful children, Sarah and Teddy.  So today, I want to publicly thank all the Donilons for their abiding commitment to public service that runs through the family.  (Applause.)

You’ve been with me every step of the way these past four years, and the American people owe you an enormous debt of gratitude for everything that you’ve done.  You’ve helped to restore our nation’s prestige and standing in the world.  You’ve positioned us well to continue to lead in the years ahead.  I think that Tom Donilon has been one of the most effective national security advisors our country has ever had, and he’s done so without a lot of fanfare and a lot of fuss.  So, Tom, on behalf of us all, thank you for your extraordinary service.  (Applause.)

Now, I am proud that this work will be carried on by another exemplary public servant — Ambassador Susan Rice.  (Applause.)  Susan was a trusted advisor during my first campaign for President.  She helped to build my foreign policy team and lead our diplomacy at the United Nations in my first term.  I’m absolutely thrilled that she’ll be back at my side, leading my national security team in my second term.

With her background as a scholar, Susan understands that there is no substitute for American leadership.  She is at once passionate and pragmatic.  I think everybody understands Susan is a fierce champion for justice and human dignity, but she’s also mindful that we have to exercise our power wisely and deliberately.

Having served on the National Security Council staff herself, she knows how to bring people together around a common policy and then push it through to completion — so that we’re making a difference where it matters most, here in the country that we have pledged to defend, and in the daily lives of the people we’re trying to help around the world.

Having served as an Assistant Secretary of State, she knows our policies are stronger when we harness the views and talents of people across government.  So Susan is the consummate public servant — a patriot who puts her country first.  She is fearless; she is tough.  She has a great tennis game and a pretty good basketball game.  (Laughter.)  Her brother is here, who I play with occasionally, and it runs in the family — throwing the occasional elbow — (laughter) — but hitting the big shot.

As our Ambassador to the U.N., Susan has been a tireless advocate in advancing our interests.  She has reinvigorated American diplomacy, in New York.  She has helped to put in place tough sanctions on Iran and North Korea.  She has defended Israel.  She has stood up for innocent civilians, from Libya to Cote d’Ivoire.  She has supported an independent South Sudan.  She has raised her voice for human rights, including women’s rights.

Put simply, Susan exemplifies the finest tradition of American diplomacy and leadership.  So thank you, Susan, for being willing to take on this next assignment.  I’m absolutely confident that you’re going to hit the ground running.  And I know that after years of commuting to New York while Ian, Jake and Maris stayed here in Washington, you will be the first person ever in this job who will see their family more by taking the National Security Advisor’s job.  (Applause.)

Now, normally I’d be worried about losing such an extraordinary person up at the United Nations and be trying to figure out how are we ever going to replace her.  But fortunately, I’m confident we’ve got an experienced, effective and energetic U.N. ambassador-in-waiting in Samantha Power.

Samantha first came to work for me in 2005, shortly after I became a United States senator, as one of our country’s leading journalists; I think she won the Pulitzer Prize at the age of 15 or 16.  One of our foremost thinkers on foreign policy, she showed us that the international community has a moral responsibility and a profound interest in resolving conflicts and defending human dignity.

As a senior member of my national security team, she has been a relentless advocate for American interests and values, building partnerships on behalf of democracy and human rights, fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism and combatting human trafficking.  To those who care deeply about America’s engagement and indispensable leadership in the world, you will find no stronger advocate for that cause than Samantha.

And over the last four years, Samantha has worked hand-in-glove with Susan in her role because Samantha has been the lead White House staffer on issues related to the United Nations.  And I’m fully confident she will be ready on day one to lead our mission in New York while continuing to be an indispensable member of my national security team.

She knows the U.N.’s strengths.  She knows its weaknesses.  She knows that American interests are advanced when we can rally the world to our side.  And she knows that we have to stand up for the things that we believe in.  And to ensure that we have the principled leadership we need at the United Nations, I would strongly urge the Senate to confirm her without delay.

So, Samantha, thank you.  To Cass, and you, and Declan and Rian for continuing to serve our country.

This team of people has been extraordinarily dedicated to America.  They have made America safer.  They have made America’s values live in corners of the world that are crying out for our support and our leadership.  I could not be prouder of these three individuals — not only their intelligence, not only their savvy, but their integrity and their heart.

And I’m very, very proud to have had the privilege of working with Tom.  I’m very proud that I’ll continue to have the privilege of working with Samantha and with Susan.

So with that, I’d invite Tom to say a few words.  Tom.  (Applause.)

MR. DONILON:  Thank you, Mr. President.  You mentioned the many hours that we’ve worked together in the Situation Room, put together here by John Kennedy and without windows.

THE PRESIDENT:  No windows.

MR. DONILON:  No windows.  So I would first like to thank you for this rare opportunity to be outside and experience the natural light.  (Laughter.)

You also mentioned how I began my public service here under President Carter in 1977 when I was 22 years old.  And I still remember leaving at the end of the day, walking up West Executive Drive, past the office of then-National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and looking up at the windows of the White House — the light is always on in Zbig’s office, no matter how late.  And I’d think to myself, don’t those guys ever go home?  And now, these many years later, I finally have the answer — no, they don’t go home very much, at least not as often or as early as their spouses and families would like.

Mr. President, to serve in this capacity where we’ve had the opportunity to protect and defend the United States, to improve the position of the United States in the world, has been the privilege of a lifetime.  To serve during your presidency, however, is to serve during one of the defining moments in our nation’s history.  This is because of your vision, your principled leadership, your commitment to defending our interests and upholding our ideals.

Those many hours of meetings and briefings have given me the opportunity to see you as few people do:  behind closed doors, away from the cameras, when a leader’s character is revealed.  And with your permission, I’d like to take this opportunity to share a little bit of what I’ve seen.

First, I’ve seen you make the most difficult decisions a Commander-in-Chief can make — the decision to send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way.  I’ve seen the great care with which you have weighed these grave decisions and I’ve seen your devotion to the families of our men and women in uniform.

I have seen your fierce patriotism, your love of our country.  When confronted with competing agendas and interests, you always bring the discussion back to one question:  What’s in the national interest, what’s best for America?  I’ve seen your abiding commitment to the core values that define us as Americans, our Constitution, civil liberties, the rule of law.  Time and time again, you have reminded us that our decisions must stand up to the judgment of history.

Finally, Mr. President, I’ve seen you represent the United States around the world and what you mean to the people around the world when you represent our country.  When you step off that plane with the words, “United States of America”, when you reach out to foreign audiences and speak to the basic aspirations we share as human beings, you send a clear message that America wants to be their partner.  And that ability to connect, to forge new bonds, is a form of American power and influence that advocates our interests and ideals as well.

To Vice President Biden and Jill, Cathy and I have considered you dear friends for more than 30 years, and it has been an honor to make this journey with you.

To my colleagues and friends here at the White House and across the government, the American people will never truly know how hard you work in their defense.

To my long-time partners in the senior leadership of the National Security Council — Denis McDonough, John Brennan, Tony Blinken, Lisa Monaco, Mike Froman, Ben Rhodes, and Brian McKeon.  I could not have asked for better brothers or sisters in this effort.

To you and all our remarkable national security staff, you’re a national treasure.  And every day you get up, you come here — you devote your days to keeping our country secure.  You are the best our nation has to offer, and it’s been an honor and a privilege to serve with each and every one of you.  And I’m glad so many of you are here today.  (Applause.)

And to my friends and colleagues — Susan and Sam — congratulations, the nation is fortunate to have leaders of your intellect, compassion, character, and determination.  Susan, you’ll be an outstanding National Security Advisor.  Sam, you’ll be an outstanding Ambassador to the United Nations.  And we really appreciate your willingness to do this.  (Applause.)

Finally, and most importantly, to Cathy, Sarah and Teddy — as the President said, this job has meant great sacrifices for you.  And each of you in your way has made a contribution to the country.  And I could not be more grateful.

So again, Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity — the extraordinary opportunity to serve you and to serve our nation.  I stand here — 36 years ago, almost to the day when I first came on the 18 acres of the White House to come to work, and I must tell you I leave this position much less cynical and never more optimistic about our country and its future.  Thank you very much, Mr. President.  (Applause.)

Susan.

AMBASSADOR RICE:  Mr. President, thank you so much.  I’m deeply honored and humbled to serve our country as your National Security Advisor.  I’m proud to have worked so closely with you for more than six years.  And I’m deeply grateful for your enduring confidence in me.

As you’ve outlined, we have vital opportunities to seize and ongoing challenges to confront.  We have much still to accomplish on behalf of the American people.  And I look forward to continuing to serve on your national security team to keep our nation strong and safe.

Tom, it’s been a real honor to work with you again.  You have led with great dedication, smarts, and skill, and you leave a legacy of enormous accomplishment.  All of us around the principals’ table will miss you.  And I wish you and Cathy, and your family, all the very best.

Above all, I want to thank my own wonderful family for their unfailing support — my mother, Lois; my wonderful husband, Ian; our children Jake and Maris; and my brother, John, have all been my strength and my greatest source of humor.  I’m also thinking today about my late father, who would have loved to be here.  I’m forever grateful to my family for their love and sacrifice.

I want to thank my remarkable colleagues at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  I am so proud of the work we’ve done together under your leadership, Mr. President, to advance America’s interests at the United Nations.

And, Samantha, my friend — warmest congratulations.  You’re a tremendous colleague, and the United States will be extremely well served by your leadership at the United Nations.  And I’m so glad we get to continue to work together.

Mr. President, having participated in the national security decision-making process over the last four years, I admire the exemplary work done every day by our colleagues at State, Defense, the intelligence community, and across the government to make our nation more secure.  I look forward to working closely with you, your extraordinary national security team, our country’s most experienced leaders from both parties, and your superb national security staff to protect the United States, advance our global leadership, and promote the values Americans hold dear.

Thank you very much.

Sam.  (Applause.)

MS. POWER:  Thank you, Mr. President.  From the day I met you and you told me that you had spent a chunk of your vacation reading a long, dark book on genocide — (laughter) — I knew you were a different kind of leader, and I knew I wanted to work for you.

It has been my privilege here at the White House to serve you, and it would be the honor of a lifetime to fight for American values and interests at the United Nations.  Now that I have two small children, Declan and Rian — somewhere — the stakes feel even higher.

Thank you, Tom and Susan.  I consider myself immensely fortunate these last four years to have collaborated with both of you.  There are two no more dedicated professionals on this Earth, no more strategic stewards of our foreign policy than these two individuals.  And I’m honored and immensely humbled to share the stage with you.

I moved to the United States from Ireland when I — with my parents, who are here — when I was 9 years old.  I remember very little about landing in Pittsburgh, except that I was sure I was at the largest airport in the history of the world.  I do remember what I was wearing — a red, white and blue stars and stripes t-shirt.  It was the t-shirt I always wore in Ireland on special occasions.

Even as a little girl with a thick Dublin accent who had never been to America, I knew that the American flag was the symbol of fortune and of freedom.  But I quickly came to learn that to find opportunity in this country, one didn’t actually need to wear the flag, one just needed to try to live up to it.

For the next three months, I came home from school every day, as my mother can attest, my dad can attest, and I sat in front of the mirrors for hours, straining to drop my brogue so that I, too, could quickly speak and be American.

Not long ago, my husband, Cass Sunstein, came across a letter written toward the end of World War II by his father, Dick Sunstein, who was a Navy lieutenant.  Dick had happened to stop briefly in San Francisco after his two years fighting for this country in the Pacific, and he wrote to his family on April 25th, 1945, the very day that the nations of the world were coming together in San Francisco to establish the new United Nations.

And in this letter to my mother-in-law, who I never had the chance to meet, he wrote, excitedly, “Conference starts today.  The town is going wild with excitement.  It is a pleasure to be here for the opening few days.  Let’s pray that they accomplish something.”

Let’s pray that they accomplish something.  The question of what the United Nations can accomplish for the world and for the United States remains a pressing one.  I have seen U.N. aid workers enduring shellfire to deliver food to the people of Sudan.  Yet I’ve also see U.N. peacekeepers fail to protect the people of Bosnia.  As the most powerful and inspiring country on this Earth, we have a critical role to play in insisting that the institution meet the necessities of our time.  It can do so only with American leadership.

It would be an incomparable privilege to earn the support of the Senate and to play a role in this essential effort, one on which our common security and common humanity depend.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
2:41 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency November 29, 2012: US United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice Speech on UN Vote on Palestinian Observer State Status

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Amb. Rice on U.N. Vote on Palestinian Observer State Status

29 November 2012

Source: USEmbassy.gov, 11-29-12

U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 29, 2012

Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Following UN General Assembly Vote on Palestinian Observer State Status Resolution

AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Mr. President.

For decades, the United States has worked to help achieve a comprehensive end to the long and tragic Arab-Israeli conflict. We have always been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve: two states for two peoples, with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.

That remains our goal, and we therefore measure any proposed action against that clear yardstick: will it bring the parties closer to peace or push them further apart? Will it help Israelis and Palestinians return to negotiations or hinder their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable agreement? Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace. That is why the United States voted against it.

The backers of today’s resolution say they seek a functioning, independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel. So do we.

But we have long been clear that the only way to establish such a Palestinian state and resolve all permanent-status issues is through the crucial, if painful, work of direct negotiations between the parties. This is not just a bedrock commitment of the United States. Israel and the Palestinians have repeatedly affirmed their own obligations under existing agreements to resolve all issues through direct negotiations, which have been endorsed frequently by the international community. The United States agrees—strongly.

Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade. And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.

The United States therefore calls upon both the parties to resume direct talks without preconditions on all the issues that divide them. And we pledge that the United States will be there to support the parties vigorously in such efforts.

The United States will continue to urge all parties to avoid any further provocative actions—in the region, in New York, or elsewhere.

We will continue to oppose firmly any and all unilateral actions in international bodies or treaties that circumvent or prejudge the very outcomes that can only be negotiated, including Palestinian statehood. And, we will continue to stand up to every effort that seeks to delegitimize Israel or undermine its security.

Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall. Nor does passing any resolution create a state where none indeed exists or change the reality on the ground.

For this reason, today’s vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for U.N. membership. It does not. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.

The United States believes the current resolution should not and cannot be read as establishing terms of reference. In many respects, the resolution prejudges the very issues it says are to be resolved through negotiation, particularly with respect to territory. At the same time, it virtually ignores other core questions such as security, which must be solved for any viable agreement to be achieved.

President Obama has been clear in stating what the United States believes is a realistic basis for successful negotiations, and we will continue to base our efforts on that approach.

The recent conflict in Gaza is just the latest reminder that the absence of peace risks the presence of war. We urge those who share our hopes for peace between a sovereign Palestine and a secure Israel to join us in supporting negotiations, not encouraging further distractions. There simply are no short cuts.

Long after the votes have been cast, long after the speeches have been forgotten, it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who must still talk to each other—and listen to each other—and find a way to live side by side in the land they share.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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