Full Text Obama Presidency September 28, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly Transcript



Remarks by President Obama to the United Nations General Assembly

Source: WH, 9-28-15

United Nations Headquarters
New York, New York

10:18 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen:  Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, it is worth reflecting on what, together, the members of this body have helped to achieve.

Out of the ashes of the Second World War, having witnessed the unthinkable power of the atomic age, the United States has worked with many nations in this Assembly to prevent a third world war — by forging alliances with old adversaries; by supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of any foreign power; and by building an international system that imposes a cost on those who choose conflict over cooperation, an order that recognizes the dignity and equal worth of all people.

That is the work of seven decades.  That is the ideal that this body, at its best, has pursued.  Of course, there have been too many times when, collectively, we have fallen short of these ideals.  Over seven decades, terrible conflicts have claimed untold victims.  But we have pressed forward, slowly, steadily, to make a system of international rules and norms that are better and stronger and more consistent.

It is this international order that has underwritten unparalleled advances in human liberty and prosperity.  It is this collective endeavor that’s brought about diplomatic cooperation between the world’s major powers, and buttressed a global economy that has lifted more than a billion people from poverty.  It is these international principles that helped constrain bigger countries from imposing our will on smaller ones, and advanced the emergence of democracy and development and individual liberty on every continent.

This progress is real.  It can be documented in lives saved, and agreements forged, and diseases conquered, and in mouths fed. And yet, we come together today knowing that the march of human progress never travels in a straight line, that our work is far from complete; that dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.

Today, we see the collapse of strongmen and fragile states breeding conflict, and driving innocent men, women and children across borders on an *epoch epic scale.  Brutal networks of terror have stepped into the vacuum.  Technologies that empower individuals are now also exploited by those who spread disinformation, or suppress dissent, or radicalize our youth.  Global capital flows have powered growth and investment, but also increased risk of contagion, weakened the bargaining power of workers, and accelerated inequality.

How should we respond to these trends?  There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the U.N. charter are unachievable or out of date — a legacy of a postwar era not suited to our own.  Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-date this institution: the belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.

On this basis, we see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law.  We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s mission; information is strictly controlled, the space for civil society restricted.  We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder; that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling.  In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.

The increasing skepticism of our international order can also be found in the most advanced democracies.  We see greater polarization, more frequent gridlock; movements on the far right, and sometimes the left, that insist on stopping the trade that binds our fates to other nations, calling for the building of walls to keep out immigrants.  Most ominously, we see the fears of ordinary people being exploited through appeals to sectarianism, or tribalism, or racism, or anti-Semitism; appeals to a glorious past before the body politic was infected by those who look different, or worship God differently; a politics of us versus them.

The United States is not immune from this.  Even as our economy is growing and our troops have largely returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace.  We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force; that cooperation and diplomacy will not work.

As President of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning.  I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.

But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.  We cannot look backwards.  We live in an integrated world — one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success.  We cannot turn those forces of integration.  No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet.  The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology.  And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences.  That is true for the United States, as well.

No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone.  In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land.  Unless we work with other nations under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts, we will not succeed.  And unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary.

Just as force alone cannot impose order internationally, I believe in my core that repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed.  The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow.  You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas.  You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth.  It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.

Indeed, I believe that in today’s world, the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory.   Lasting prosperity does not come solely from the ability to access and extract raw materials.  The strength of nations depends on the success of their people — their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity — and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security.  Internal repression and foreign aggression are both symptoms of the failure to provide this foundation.

A politics and solidarity that depend on demonizing others, that draws on religious sectarianism or narrow tribalism or jingoism may at times look like strength in the moment, but over time its weakness will be exposed.  And history tells us that the dark forces unleashed by this type of politics surely makes all of us less secure.  Our world has been there before.  We gain nothing from going back.

Instead, I believe that we must go forward in pursuit of our ideals, not abandon them at this critical time.  We must give expression to our best hopes, not our deepest fears.  This institution was founded because men and women who came before us had the foresight to know that our nations are more secure when we uphold basic laws and basic norms, and pursue a path of cooperation over conflict.  And strong nations, above all, have a responsibility to uphold this international order.

Let me give you a concrete example.  After I took office, I made clear that one of the principal achievements of this body — the nuclear non-proliferation regime — was endangered by Iran’s violation of the NPT.  On that basis, the Security Council tightened sanctions on the Iranian government, and many nations joined us to enforce them.  Together, we showed that laws and agreements mean something.

But we also understood that the goal of sanctions was not simply to punish Iran.  Our objective was to test whether Iran could change course, accept constraints, and allow the world to verify that its nuclear program will be peaceful.  For two years, the United States and our partners — including Russia, including China — stuck together in complex negotiations.  The result is a lasting, comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while allowing it to access peaceful energy.  And if this deal is fully implemented, the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer.  That is the strength of the international system when it works the way it should.

That same fidelity to international order guides our responses to other challenges around the world.  Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in eastern Ukraine.  America has few economic interests in Ukraine.  We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine.  But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated.  If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today.  That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia.  It’s not a desire to return to a Cold War.

Now, within Russia, state-controlled media may describe these events as an example of a resurgent Russia — a view shared, by the way, by a number of U.S. politicians and commentators who have always been deeply skeptical of Russia, and seem to be convinced a new Cold War is, in fact, upon us.  And yet, look at the results.  The Ukrainian people are more interested than ever in aligning with Europe instead of Russia. Sanctions have led to capital flight, a contracting economy, a fallen ruble, and the emigration of more educated Russians.

Imagine if, instead, Russia had engaged in true diplomacy, and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected.  That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia, and better for the world — which is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved in a way that allows a sovereign and democratic Ukraine to determine its future and control its territory.  Not because we want to isolate Russia — we don’t — but because we want a strong Russia that’s invested in working with us to strengthen the international system as a whole.

Similarly, in the South China Sea, the United States makes no claim on territory there.  We don’t adjudicate claims.  But like every nation gathered here, we have an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force.  So we will defend these principles, while encouraging China and other claimants to resolve their differences peacefully.

I say this, recognizing that diplomacy is hard; that the outcomes are sometimes unsatisfying; that it’s rarely politically popular.  But I believe that leaders of large nations, in particular, have an obligation to take these risks — precisely because we are strong enough to protect our interests if, and when, diplomacy fails.

I also believe that to move forward in this new era, we have to be strong enough to acknowledge when what you’re doing is not working.  For 50 years, the United States pursued a Cuba policy that failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  We changed that.  We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights.  But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties.  As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore.  (Applause.)  Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve, just as I believe that Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations.

Now, if it’s in the interest of major powers to uphold international standards, it is even more true for the rest of the community of nations.  Look around the world.  From Singapore to Colombia to Senegal, the facts shows that nations succeed when they pursue an inclusive peace and prosperity within their borders, and work cooperatively with countries beyond their borders.

That path is now available to a nation like Iran, which, as of this moment, continues to deploy violent proxies to advance its interests.  These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region, and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce.  The Iranian people have a proud history, and are filled with extraordinary potential.  But chanting “Death to America” does not create jobs, or make Iran more secure.  If Iran chose a different path, that would be good for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people, and good for the world.

Of course, around the globe, we will continue to be confronted with nations who reject these lessons of history, places where civil strife, border disputes, and sectarian wars bring about terrorist enclaves and humanitarian disasters.  Where order has completely broken down, we must act, but we will be stronger when we act together.

In such efforts, the United States will always do our part. We will do so mindful of the lessons of the past — not just the lessons of Iraq, but also the example of Libya, where we joined an international coalition under a U.N. mandate to prevent a slaughter.  Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind.  We’re grateful to the United Nations for its efforts to forge a unity government.  We will help any legitimate Libyan government as it works to bring the country together.  But we also have to recognize that we must work more effectively in the future, as an international community, to build capacity for states that are in distress, before they collapse.

And that’s why we should celebrate the fact that later today the United States will join with more than 50 countries to enlist new capabilities — infantry, intelligence, helicopters, hospitals, and tens of thousands of troops — to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping.  (Applause.)  These new capabilities can prevent mass killing, and ensure that peace agreements are more than words on paper.  But we have to do it together.  Together, we must strengthen our collective capacity to establish security where order has broken down, and to support those who seek a just and lasting peace.

Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria.  When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs — it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all.  Likewise, when a terrorist group beheads captives, slaughters the innocent and enslaves women, that’s not a single nation’s national security problem — that is an assault on all humanity.

I’ve said before and I will repeat:  There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them.  We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes.  And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists.

But while military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria.  Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully.  The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.

Let’s remember how this started.  Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife.  And so Assad and his allies cannot simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing.  Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL.  But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.

We know that ISIL — which emerged out of the chaos of Iraq and Syria — depends on perpetual war to survive.  But we also know that they gain adherents because of a poisonous ideology.  So part of our job, together, is to work to reject such extremism that infects too many of our young people.  Part of that effort must be a continued rejection by Muslims of those who distort Islam to preach intolerance and promote violence, and it must also a rejection by non-Muslims of the ignorance that equates Islam with terror.  (Applause.)

This work will take time.  There are no easy answers to Syria.  And there are no simple answers to the changes that are taking place in much of the Middle East and North Africa.  But so many families need help right now; they don’t have time.  And that’s why the United States is increasing the number of refugees who we welcome within our borders.  That’s why we will continue to be the largest donor of assistance to support those refugees. And today we are launching new efforts to ensure that our people and our businesses, our universities and our NGOs can help as well — because in the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves.

Of course, in the old ways of thinking, the plight of the powerless, the plight of refugees, the plight of the marginalized did not matter.  They were on the periphery of the world’s concerns.  Today, our concern for them is driven not just by conscience, but should also be drive by self-interest.  For helping people who have been pushed to the margins of our world is not mere charity, it is a matter of collective security.  And the purpose of this institution is not merely to avoid conflict, it is to galvanize the collective action that makes life better on this planet.

The commitments we’ve made to the Sustainable Development Goals speak to this truth.  I believe that capitalism has been the greatest creator of wealth and opportunity that the world has ever known.  But from big cities to rural villages around the world, we also know that prosperity is still cruelly out of reach for too many.  As His Holiness Pope Francis reminds us, we are stronger when we value the least among these, and see them as equal in dignity to ourselves and our sons and our daughters.

We can roll back preventable disease and end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  We can stamp out pandemics that recognize no borders. That work may not be on television right now, but as we demonstrated in reversing the spread of Ebola, it can save more lives than anything else we can do.

Together, we can eradicate extreme poverty and erase barriers to opportunity.  But this requires a sustained commitment to our people — so farmers can feed more people; so entrepreneurs can start a business without paying a bribe; so young people have the skills they need to succeed in this modern, knowledge-based economy.

We can promote growth through trade that meets a higher standard.  And that’s what we’re doing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade agreement that encompasses nearly 40 percent of the global economy; an agreement that will open markets, while protecting the rights of workers and protecting the environment that enables development to be sustained.

We can roll back the pollution that we put in our skies, and help economies lift people out of poverty without condemning our children to the ravages of an ever-warming climate.  The same ingenuity that produced the Industrial Age and the Computer Age allows us to harness the potential of clean energy.  No country can escape the ravages of climate change.  And there is no stronger sign of leadership than putting future generations first.  The United States will work with every nation that is willing to do its part so that we can come together in Paris to decisively confront this challenge.

And finally, our vision for the future of this Assembly, my belief in moving forward rather than backwards, requires us to defend the democratic principles that allow societies to succeed. Let me start from a simple premise:  Catastrophes, like what we are seeing in Syria, do not take place in countries where there is genuine democracy and respect for the universal values this institution is supposed to defend.  (Applause.)

I recognize that democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world.  The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences.  But some universal truths are self-evident.  No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship.  No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school.  The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws — these are not ideas of one country or one culture.  They are fundamental to human progress. They are a cornerstone of this institution.

I realize that in many parts of the world there is a different view — a belief that strong leadership must tolerate no dissent.  I hear it not only from America’s adversaries, but privately at least I also hear it from some of our friends.  I disagree.  I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear.  (Applause.)  History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone.

That’s why our strongest leaders — from George Washington to Nelson Mandela — have elevated the importance of building strong, democratic institutions over a thirst for perpetual power.  Leaders who amend constitutions to stay in office only acknowledge that they failed to build a successful country for their people — because none of us last forever.  It tells us that power is something they cling to for its own sake, rather than for the betterment of those they purport to serve.

I understand democracy is frustrating.  Democracy in the United States is certainly imperfect.  At times, it can even be dysfunctional.  But democracy — the constant struggle to extend rights to more of our people, to give more people a voice — is what allowed us to become the most powerful nation in the world. (Applause.)

It’s not simply a matter of principle; it’s not an abstraction.  Democracy — inclusive democracy — makes countries stronger.  When opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot, a country draws upon new ideas.  When a free media can inform the public, corruption and abuse are exposed and can be rooted out.  When civil society thrives, communities can solve problems that governments cannot necessarily solve alone.  When immigrants are welcomed, countries are more productive and more vibrant.  When girls can go to school, and get a job, and pursue unlimited opportunity, that’s when a country realizes its full potential.  (Applause.)

That is what I believe is America’s greatest strength.  Not everybody in America agrees with me.  That’s part of democracy.  I believe that the fact that you can walk the streets of this city right now and pass churches and synagogues and temples and mosques, where people worship freely; the fact that our nation of immigrants mirrors the diversity of the world — you can find everybody from everywhere here in New York City — (applause) — the fact that, in this country, everybody can contribute, everybody can participate no matter who they are, or what they look like, or who they love — that’s what makes us strong.

And I believe that what is true for America is true for virtually all mature democracies.  And that is no accident.  We can be proud of our nations without defining ourselves in opposition to some other group.  We can be patriotic without demonizing someone else.  We can cherish our own identities — our religion, our ethnicity, our traditions — without putting others down.  Our systems are premised on the notion that absolute power will corrupt, but that people — ordinary people  — are fundamentally good; that they value family and friendship, faith and the dignity of hard work; and that with appropriate checks and balances, governments can reflect this goodness.

I believe that’s the future we must seek together.  To believe in the dignity of every individual, to believe we can bridge our differences, and choose cooperation over conflict — that is not weakness, that is strength.  (Applause.)  It is a practical necessity in this interconnected world.

And our people understand this.  Think of the Liberian doctor who went door-to-door to search for Ebola cases, and to tell families what to do if they show symptoms.  Think of the Iranian shopkeeper who said, after the nuclear deal, “God willing, now we’ll be able to offer many more goods at better prices.”  Think of the Americans who lowered the flag over our embassy in Havana in 1961 — the year I was born — and returned this summer to raise that flag back up.  (Applause.)  One of these men said of the Cuban people, “We could do things for them, and they could do things for us.  We loved them.”  For 50 years, we ignored that fact.

Think of the families leaving everything they’ve known behind, risking barren deserts and stormy waters just to find shelter; just to save their children.  One Syrian refugee who was greeted in Hamburg with warm greetings and shelter, said, “We feel there are still some people who love other people.”

The people of our United Nations are not as different as they are told.  They can be made to fear; they can be taught to hate — but they can also respond to hope.  History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires who believed that might always makes right, and that will continue to be the case.  You can count on that.  But we are called upon to offer a different type of leadership — leadership strong enough to recognize that nations share common interests and people share a common humanity, and, yes, there are certain ideas and principles that are universal.

That’s what those who shaped the United Nations 70 years ago understood.  Let us carry forward that faith into the future — for it is the only way we can assure that future will be brighter for my children, and for yours.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

11:00 A.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts September 25, 2015: Pope Francis’s Speech to the UN General Assembly Transcript



Transcript: Pope Francis’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly

Source: WaPo, 9-25-15

The following is the prepared text of Pope Francis’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly, delivered Friday in New York. 

Mr President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your kind words. Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honored, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programs and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.

This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.

The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast-paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.

For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefitted humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.

Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.

The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.

Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.

The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.

To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.

At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.

For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.

The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).

Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.

War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.

The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.

As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples.

Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.

I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today… For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind (Address to the United Nations Organization, 4 October 1965). Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests” (ibid.).

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.

Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it” (ibid.).

El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.

The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk “the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests” (Laudato Si’, 229).

The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.

The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavour, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.

Upon all of you, and the peoples you represent, I invoke the blessing of the Most High, and all peace and prosperity. Thank you.

Political Musings October 1, 2014: Obama, Netanyahu discuss Iran, Palestinians in friendlier White House meeting





Obama, Netanyahu discuss Iran, Palestinians in friendlier White House meeting

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In a meeting at the White House on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 that was less acrimonious than their last, President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office. For Netanyahu the most important part…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency October 1, 2014: President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Remarks Before Bilateral Meeting — Transcript



Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel Before Bilateral Meeting

Source: WH, 10-1-14

Oval Office

11:23 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, it’s good once again to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu.  Obviously, he’s no stranger to the White House.  I think I’ve met with Bibi more than any world leader during my tenure as President.

We meet at a challenging time.  Israel is obviously in a very turbulent neighborhood, and this gives us an opportunity once again to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and our ironclad commitment to making sure that Israel is secure.

Throughout the summer, obviously all of us were deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza.  I think the American people should be very proud of the contributions that we made to the Iron Dome program to protect the lives of Israelis at a time when rockets were pouring into Israel on a regular basis.  I think we also recognize that we have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.

And so we’ll discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza but also how can we find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our agenda will be broader than that, obviously.  I’ll debrief Bibi on the work that we’re doing to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and the broader agenda that I discussed at the United Nations, which is mobilizing a coalition not only for military action, but also to bring about a shift in Arab states and Muslim countries that isolate the cancer of violent extremism that is so pernicious and ultimately has killed more Muslims than anything else.

And we’ll also have an opportunity to discuss the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which obviously has been a high priority for not only Israel, but also the United States and the world community.

So we have a lot to talk about, and I appreciate very much the Prime Minister coming.  It’s challenging I think for an Israeli Prime Minister to have to work so hard during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I know that the Prime Minister’s utmost priority is making sure that his country is safe during these difficult times.  And we’re glad that the United States can be a partner in that process.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, first I want to thank you.  I want to thank you for the unflinching support you gave Israel during our difficult days and difficult summer we had — expressed in so many ways, but also in an additional installment of support for Iron Dome, which has saved so many lives, saved many lives across the border.  And I thank you for that, and for the continuous bond of friendship that is so strong between Israel and the United States.

I also want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you and to discuss the enormous challenges facing the United States and Israel in the Middle East.  There’s definitely a new Middle East.  I think it poses new dangers, but it also presents new opportunities.

As for the dangers, Israel fully supports your effort and your leadership to defeat ISIS.  We think everybody should support this.  And even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power.

As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power.  I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.

Equally, I think that there are opportunities.  And the opportunities, as you just expressed, is something that is changing in the Middle East, because out of the new situation, there emerges a commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states.  And I think that we should work very hard together to seize on those common interests and build a positive program to advance a more secure, more prosperous and a more peaceful Middle East.

I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements on the ground.  And I believe we should make use of the new opportunities, think outside the box, see how we can recruit the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda.  And I look forward to our discussions on these and many other matters.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

11:29 A.M. EDT

Political Musings September 29, 2014: Obama on 60 minutes acknowledges administration underestimated ISIS threat





Obama on 60 minutes acknowledges administration underestimated ISIS threat

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama admitted 2014 that his administration underestimated the threat of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in a CBS’ ’60 Minutes’ interview with Steve Kroft that was taped on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 27, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: America is Leading the World on American Leadership in Fights against ISIS & Ebola — Transcript



Weekly Address: America is Leading the World

Source: WH, 9-27-14 

In this week’s address, the President reiterated the forceful and optimistic message of American leadership that he delivered in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week. America is leading the world against the most pressing challenges, including the fight to degrade and destroy ISIL, the effort to stop the Ebola epidemic, and the movement to confront the threat from climate change. The world looks to America and its commitment to freedom in the face of uncertainly, and as the President said, it will continue to do so for generations to come.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
September 27, 2014

Hi, everybody. American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. That was true this week, as we mobilized the world to confront some of our most urgent challenges.

America is leading the world in the fight to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL. On Monday, our brave men and women in uniform began air strikes against ISIL targets in Syria. And they weren’t alone. I made it clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition, and we were joined in this action by friends and partners, including Arab nations. At the United Nations in New York, I worked to build more support for this coalition; to cut off terrorist financing; and to stop the flow of foreign fighters into and out of that region. And in my address to the UN, I challenged the world — especially Muslim communities – to reject the ideology of violent extremism, and to do more to tap the extraordinary potential of their young people.

America is leading the effort to rally the world against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Along with our allies, we will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. And this week, I called upon even more nations to join us on the right side of history.

America is leading the fight to contain and combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. We’re deploying our doctors and scientists — supported by our military — to help corral the outbreak and pursue new treatments. From the United Kingdom and Germany to France and Senegal, other nations are stepping up their efforts, too, sending money, supplies, and personnel. And we will continue to rally other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this disease, and enhance global health security for the long-term.

America is engaging more partners and allies than ever to confront the growing threat of climate change before it’s too late. We’re doing our part, and helping developing nations do theirs. At home, we’ve invested in clean energy, cut carbon pollution, and created new jobs in the process. Abroad, our climate assistance now reaches more than 120 nations. And on Tuesday, I called on every nation – developed and developing alike — to join us in this effort for the sake of future generations.

The people of the world look to us to lead. And we welcome that responsibility. We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom. And as we showed the world this week, we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Full Text Obama Presidency September 26, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Open Government Partnership Meeting — Transcript



Remarks by President Obama at Open Government Partnership Meeting

Source: WH, 9-24-14

United Nations Building
New York City, New York

5:35 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you very much.  And thank you, Rakesh, for your introduction.  It is wonderful to see all of you here today.  I still remember your eloquent words when we launched this effort three years ago, and I’m very grateful for the role you’ve played and NGOs have played, and all the leadership that is represented here has played in making this a reality — which is making a real difference in the lives of so many countries that are participating.

I want to thank my good friend, President Yudhoyono, for your leadership and the example that Indonesia has tried to set as a country that has transitioned from a difficult past to a full-blown democracy.  And I also want to thank Minister Kuntoro for hosting us here today.  Both of them have shown extraordinary leadership in this partnership over the past several years.

President Yudhoyono will be — this will be the last time I think that we see each other in his official capacity, but not in terms of our friendship.  And I think that it’s fitting that he’s participating here today and leading it, because it reflects the legacy of his work.  And I also want to acknowledge my dear friend, President Peña Nieto of Mexico, as well as President Zuma of South Africa, who have agreed to lead the partnership in the coming year.

I’m thrilled to see so many leaders from civil society — men and women who stand up for equality and opportunity and justice and freedom every single day.  And it’s not always easy to do.  Yesterday, I had a chance to speak about the importance of supporting civil society across the globe — because throughout history, progress has always been driven by citizens who have the courage to raise their voices, and imagine not just what is but what might be, and that are willing to work to bring about the change that they seek.

Three years ago, the United States and seven other nations launched this Open Government Partnership to represent the other side of that equation — because when citizens demand progress, governments need to be able to respond.  And in a new millennium flush with technology that allows us to connect with a tweet or a text, citizens rightly demand more responsiveness, more openness, more transparency, more accountability from their governments.

In just three short years, this partnership has grown from eight nations to 64.  It has helped to transform the way governments serve their citizens.  Together, we have made more than 2,000 commitments — improving how governments serve more than 2 billion people worldwide.  More citizens are petitioning their governments online, and more citizens are participating directly in policymaking.  More entrepreneurs are using open data to innovate and start new businesses.  More sunlight is shining on how tax dollars are spent.  And more governments are partnering with civil society to find new ways to expose corruption and improve good governance.

Here in the United States, we’ve been trying to lead by example.  We’re working to open up and share more data with entrepreneurs so they can pursue the new innovations and businesses that create jobs.  We’re working to modernize our Freedom of Information Act process so that it’s easier for Americans to use, so that they can see the workings of their government.  And today, I’m proud to announce a series of new commitments to expand and broaden our open government efforts.

We’re going to work more closely with the health care sector and state and local law enforcement — not just to improve public health and safety, but to better protect the privacy and personal information of the American people.  We’re going to improve transparency with our upgraded website, USAspending.gov, to make it easier for Americans to access and understand how the federal government spends their tax dollars.

We’re going to collaborate more closely with the private sector and the best minds in our country so that when we design websites or technologies to better serve the public, we’re benefitting from the best of American ingenuity and the latest technologies.  And because we know that education is a cornerstone for progress — if we want good governance, we need an educated and informed citizenry — we’re going to do more to help people in other countries, especially students, access the incredible online educational tools and resources that we have here in the States.

In addition, as part of our leadership in the global fight against corruption, we intend to partner with American businesses to develop a national plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas.  We already have laws in place; they’re significantly stronger than the laws of many other countries.  But we think we can do better.  And we think that ultimately it will be good for everybody, including business.  Because when they know there’s a rule of law, when they don’t have to pay a bribe to ship their goods or to finalize a contract, that means they’re more likely to invest, and that means more jobs and prosperity for everybody.

As we look ahead, I believe that continuing this global fight against corruption has to remain a central focus in this partnership.  It’s an area where we can expand our efforts. Corruption is not simply immoral.  From a practical perspective, it siphons off billions of dollars from the public and private sectors that could be used to feed children or build schools, or build infrastructure that promotes development.  It also promotes economic inequality.  It facilitates human rights abuses.  It fuels organized crime, and terrorism, and ultimately instability.

Passing anti-corruption laws is necessary — and then those laws have to be enforced, so that those who steal from their people are held accountable, and so citizens have faith that the system is not rigged and that justice will be done.  We need to do more to track down the proceeds of corruption and prevent our legal and financial systems from becoming safe havens for money gained through bribes or fraud.  And we need to do more to ensure transparency and accountability in industries that can be especially vulnerable to corruption, such as the extraction of natural resources.  That’s not just good for businesses, it helps support development in countries that depend on these industries for growth and for jobs.

In all of these efforts as governments, we’re going to have to deepen our partnerships with civil society.  As I announced yesterday, I’ve directed the U.S. government to elevate its engagement with civil society groups around the world.  After all, the Open Government Partnership is not simply a partnership between governments; it’s between governments and their citizens.  At times, this can be frustrating.  At times, it can be contentious.  I think it’s fair to say that all governments think they’re doing what’s right, and don’t like criticism.  And it’s shocking to say that not all criticism from civil society is always fair.  But, as leaders, making our governments more open does mean that as a consequence of that criticism, there’s self-reflection.  And it means that questions are asked that might not have otherwise been asked.  And that groupthink doesn’t develop inside of a government, and that people don’t start as easily rationalizing behavior that, if shown in the light of day, people would object to.

As we’ve seen through the leadership of Rakesh and so many others who are here today, open and honest collaboration with citizens and civil society over the long term — no matter how uncomfortable it is — makes countries stronger and it makes countries more successful, and it creates more prosperous economies, and more just societies, and more opportunity for citizens.

So the achievements of these first three years are an example of the kind of steady, step-by-step progress that is possible for people and countries around the world.  No country has all the answers.  No country has perfect practices.  So we have to continue to find new ways to learn from each other, to share best practices, and most importantly, to turn the commitments that we’ve made into real and meaningful action that improves the daily lives of our citizens.  I’m confident that if we do that, we can ensure that we’re living up to the basic truth that governments exist to serve the people, and not the other way around.

Let me just close by saying this:  When we started this, we didn’t know if it was going to work.  And I could not be more proud to see the enormous changes that are taking place all around the globe — in small increments sometimes.  It’s not flashy.  It doesn’t generate a lot of headlines.  But the work you’re doing here is a steady wave of better government, and a steady wave of stronger civil societies.  And over time, that means that not only will individual countries be stronger, and not only will the citizens of those countries have greater opportunity and are less prone to experience injustice, but that translates into a world that is more just and more fair.  And that’s the kind of world that I want to leave my children.

So congratulations on the good work.  But don’t let up — as I’m sure you won’t, because I know some of you.  (Laughter.)  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

5:45 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 26, 2014: Vice President Joe Biden’s Speech at at the UN Summit on Peacekeeping Operations — Transcript



Opening Remarks by the Vice President at the UN Summit on Peacekeeping Operations

Source: WH, 9-26-14

The United Nations
New York, New York

10:43 A.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Welcome.  And welcome to my co-hosts — the Secretary General, the President of Rwanda, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the Prime Minister of Japan, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and all the assembled leaders, ministers, ambassadors and distinguished guests.  And as we say in the body I used to work in, the United States Senate, if you could excuse the point of personal privilege, I’d like to welcome my colleague, Senator Coons, who represents my home constituency.  So I want to be able to go back home.  (Laughter.)

We meet at a moment when the demand for international peacekeeping has never been greater.  In one generation, U.N. peacekeeping has grown tenfold, to about 120,000 men and women deployed around the world.

And as the nature of conflict and combatants has evolved —  to include sophisticated non-state actors as well as traditional armies -— the instruments of peacekeeping have evolved as well.

Today, we ask peacekeepers to protect civilians in South Sudan and the Central African Republic; to prevent sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and to help with the peace process in Mali, amid deadly attacks by extremists -— even as we continue to monitor longstanding ceasefires on three continents.

When we ask them to do more than ever, that is the peacekeepers, in even more difficult and more dangerous environments, we owe them more.  The result is that peacekeeping is under greater strain than it ever has been.  And I should say — and I’m sure I speak for everyone — we are grateful for the burdens peacekeepers have carried, and we honor the sacrifices that they have made.

But, today, we gather to offer more than just words of support.  Together, our nations are here to offer resources, troops, police, and more for these missions.  We have to meet the peacekeeping challenges today.  We also have to look ahead what they’re going to be tomorrow; and we have to do it together.

The United States will do its part.  Last month, President Obama launched the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, a new commitment of $110 million dollars per year for the next three to five years to help six African partners build their capacity to rapidly — and I emphasize rapidly –deploy peacekeepers in emerging crises.  Because rapid deployment, if done rapidly, can save tens of thousands of lives.

We thank the growing coalition, including several leaders here today, who are joining us in support of this initiative.  We think they share the same view, and we thank them for their contributions.

We also will review U.S. contributions to peacekeeping, as well, to assess gaps that the United States is uniquely positioned to fill, like base camps we are building and helping the U.N. build for peacekeepers in the Central African Republic; to better share the U.S. military’s knowledge of confronting asymmetric threats; and to help the U.N. deploy advanced technology.

And we’ll continue to offer support during cases as we did — crises, I should say, as we did after the Haiti earthquake, and as we will be doing in Liberia to help contain the Ebola outbreak.

We are already making contributions, all of us.  But we can and should do more together, and we can do it, in our view, more effectively.  That’s why the United States, Mr. Secretary General, welcomes the comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations that you have put forward.

This is a chance not only to make commitments, but to think strategically together about future peacekeeping needs and related missions.  My guess is — and I’ve been in this business a long time — had we met in the same fora 20 years ago, no one would be anticipating the type — have anticipated the type of peacekeeping operations from non-state actors that we’re engaged with.  So when I say think strategically, we have to think ahead, as well.

And as to what kind of missions are going to be required in the future; what will be required to deploy them — these missions — rapidly and ensure they perform effectively; working in partnership with the African Union, NATO, and the European Union, and other organizations, we can do that.  And we owe the United Nations our best and boldest thinking.

So the truth is the very fact that peacekeeping exists, that men and women sometimes from halfway around the world risk their lives to protect peace on the fault lines of conflict is one of the great achievements of this international system.  Working together I’m confident we can strengthen that system and meet the challenges ahead.

And with that, let me now turn to His Excellency, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

10:50 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 26, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Global Health Security Agenda Summit about Ebola Outbreak — Transcript



Remarks by the President at Global Health Security Agenda Summit

Source: WH, 9-26-14

South Court Auditorium

11:51 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Welcome to the White House.  Thank you for being here.  I want to welcome members of Congress, leaders from across my administration, and our friends and partners — leaders in public health not just from the United States, but from around the world.  Thank you for joining us to advance a cause that touches us all — the health of our people and the security of our nations and of the world.

Today, of course, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West Africa.  And I know that some of you have been there, doing heroic work in the fight against Ebola.  You’ve seen firsthand the tragedy that’s taking place.  In Liberia, in Sierra Leone, in Guinea, people are terrified.  Hospitals, clinics, treatment centers are overwhelmed, leaving people dying on the streets.  Public health systems are near collapse.  And then there are the secondary effects — economic growth is slowing dramatically, governments are being strained.  And if left unchecked, experts predict that hundreds of thousands of people could be killed in a matter of months.

That’s why I’ve told my team that fighting this epidemic is a national security priority for the United States.  It’s why I recently announced a major increase in our efforts.  Our military command in Liberia is now up and running.  We’re standing up an air bridge to move health workers and supplies into West Africa more quickly.  We’re setting up a field hospital, new treatment units, a facility to train thousands of health workers.  So this is an area where the United States has an opportunity to lead, and we’ve been making a major contribution.

But yesterday at the United Nations, I joined with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Dr. Chan and said this has to be a global priority.  Over the last week, culminating yesterday in New York, more countries and organizations have announced significant commitments, including health care workers, and treatment facilities, and financial support.  And today I want to thank, in particular, the government of Japan, which has pledged to provide some 500,000 pieces of ventilated protective gear — head gear, gloves and boots — to help keep health workers safe as they treat patients in the region.

So we’ve got to now keep up this momentum.  This epidemic underscores — vividly and tragically — what we already knew, which is, in a world as interconnected as ours, outbreaks anywhere, even in the most remote villages and the remote corners of the world, have the potential to impact everybody, every nation.

And though this Ebola epidemic is particularly dangerous, we’ve seen deadly diseases cross borders before.  H1N1.  SARS. MERS.  And each time, the world scrambles to coordinate a response.  Each time, it’s been harder than it should be to share information and to contain the outbreak.  As a result, diseases have spread faster and farther than they should have — which means lives are lost that could have been saved.  With all the knowledge, all the medical talent, all the advanced technologies at our disposal, it is unacceptable if, because of lack of preparedness and planning and global coordination, people are dying when they don’t have to.  So we have to do better — especially when we know that outbreaks are going to keep happening.  That’s inevitable.

At the same time, other biological threats have also grown  — from infections that are resistant to antibiotics to terrorists that seek to develop and use biological weapons.  And no nation can meet these challenges on its own.  Nobody is that isolated anymore.  Oceans don’t protect you.  Walls don’t protect you.  And that means all of us, as nations, and as an international community, need to do more to keep our people safe. And that’s why we’re here.

We have to change our mindsets and start thinking about biological threats as the security threats that they are — in addition to being humanitarian threats and economic threats.  We have to bring the same level of commitment and focus to these challenges as we do when meeting around more traditional security issues.

And what I’ve said about the Ebola epidemic is true here as well:  As the nation that has underwritten much of global security for decades, the United States has some capabilities that other nations don’t have.  We can mobilize the world in ways that other nations may not be able to.  And that’s what we’re trying to do on Ebola.  And that’s what we’ll do on the broader challenge of ensuring our global health security.  We will do our part.  We will lead.  We will put resources.  But we cannot do it alone.

That’s why, back in February, before the current Ebola outbreak, we launched this Global Heath Security Agenda, and I pushed this agenda at the G7 meeting, because we could see something like this coming.  And we issued a challenge to ourselves and to all nations of the world to make concrete pledges towards three key goals:  prevent, detect and respond.  We have to prevent outbreaks by reducing risks.  We need to detect threats immediately wherever they arise.  And we need to respond rapidly and effectively when we see something happening so that we can save lives and avert even larger outbreaks.

Now, the good news is today, our nations have begun to answer the call.  Together, our countries have made over 100 commitments both to strengthen our own security and to work with each other to strengthen the security of all countries’ public health systems.  And now, we’ve got to turn those commitments into concrete action -– starting in West Africa.  We’ve got to make sure we never see a tragedy on this scale again, and we have to make sure we’re not caught flat-footed.  Because you know better than I do that not only can we anticipate additional outbreaks, but we also know that viruses in large populations have the opportunity to mutate in ways that could make them even more deadly and spread more rapidly.

So first, we’ll do more to prevent threats and outbreaks.  We’re going to partner with countries to help boost immunization rates to stop the spread of preventable diseases.  We’ll work together to improve biological security so nations can store, transport, and work with dangerous pathogens safely.  Here in the United States, we’re working with our partners to find new ways to stop animal diseases from crossing over into people -– which, of course, is how Ebola started.  And with the executive order I signed last week, we now have a national strategy to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to better protect our children and grandchildren from the reemergence of diseases and infections that the world conquered decades ago.

Second, we’ll do more to detect incidents and outbreaks.  We’ll help hospitals and health workers find ways to share information more quickly as outbreaks occur.  We want to help countries improve their monitoring systems so they can track progress in real time.  And we’ll intensify our efforts to diagnose diseases faster.  And technologies now exist, today, that diagnose many illnesses in minutes.  And one of the things that we need to do is work together to find ways to get those new technologies to market as quickly as possible and distributed as quickly as possible.

In too many places around the world, patients still have to wait sometimes for days to find out if they’re sick, which means that in the meantime, they’re infecting friends and they’re infecting family.  We can do better on that.  So we’re going to keep working to get new technologies to hospitals and health workers who need it so they can diagnose patients quickly and do more to save lives at the earliest stages of disease.

And finally, we’ll do more to respond faster when incidents and outbreaks happen.  The United States will continue to help countries create their own emergency operations centers, with rapid response teams ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.  Just like our military conducts exercises to be ready, we’ll lead more training exercise as well, helping countries stress-test their system and personnel so that in the event of an outbreak or biological attack, they know how to find the source, they know how to mitigate the impact, they know how to save lives.  They can institute best practices that in many advanced countries we take for granted.  Under the CDC, this is their job.  If they find something out, they know how to isolate it rapidly; they know how to conduct the epidemiological studies, and they know what protocols to follow.  Every country has the capacity to do that.  Because a lot of times, it’s not high-tech, doesn’t require huge resources; it does require planning and preparation.

As we’re often seeing in West Africa, often the greatest need in a crisis is personnel who are trained and ready to deploy.  So we’re going to keep working to strengthen the global networks of experts.  When a crisis occurs, there are enough specialists standing by, ready to work.

And today, I’m pleased to announce a new effort to help health workers respond to diseases like Ebola.  As many of you know firsthand, the protective gear that health workers wear can get incredibly hot, especially in humid environments.  So today, we’re issuing a challenge to inventors and entrepreneurs and businesses of the world to design better protective solutions for our health workers. If you design them, we will make them.  We will pay for them.  And our goal is to get them to the field in a matter of months to help the people working in West Africa right now.  I’m confident we can do this.

So here’s the bottom line:  No one should ever have to die for lack of an isolation tent or a treatment bed, as is happening in West Africa.  No community should be left at the mercy of a horrific disease.  No country should be caught by surprise if an outbreak starts to become an epidemic.  We’ve got to act quickly. And we’ve got to meet the commitments that we’re making here today, and track our progress and hold each other accountable.

So you can anticipate that I will be bringing this up with the heads of state and government that you report to.  I especially want to thank the governments of Finland and Indonesia, who’ve agreed to lead this effort going forward.  I want to thank South Korea, which will host this conference next year.  I want to keep the momentum going.

And as we go forward, let’s remember what we’re working toward -– more families, more communities, more nations that are better able to provide for their own health security.  And one thing I want to point out, because all of you have been working in the field for many years and understand these issues far better than I ever will.  Even as we are working on preparedness, understand that the U.S. commitment — and hopefully the world’s commitment — to just building a better public health infrastructure generally remains.  It’s one thing for us to make sure that we can anticipate diseases — identify diseases early and respond to them rapidly.  But as everybody here knows, if the body is strong, if communities are strong, if nations are strong, then their immune systems are a little bit stronger.  And so part of what we will also continue to have to do is make sure that children are well fed, and that they’re getting their immunizations, and that people have opportunity to get out of extreme poverty.  That’s also part of the long-term agenda.

So we have a very narrow, specific issue in terms of how we respond to the potential outbreaks of epidemics like we’re seeing in West Africa.  I don’t want people to think that somehow that distracts us from some of our broader public health goals.  But right now, what we’re focused on today is to make sure that we have the opportunity to succeed in a situation in which success will never actually be seen.  It will be the attacks that we prevented, and the infections that we stopped before they started, and the outbreaks that don’t explode into epidemics.

The scenes we’re seeing in West Africa are heartbreaking and they tear at our conscience.  But even now, in the face of unimaginable suffering, there’s still hope.  There’s hope in people like Dr. Melvin Korkor from Liberia.  I know he shared his story with you earlier here today.  I think it’s important for the world to hear it, for those of you who are just tuning in.

When the Ebola outbreak first began, in a different part of Liberia from where Dr. Korkor lives, he and his colleagues didn’t think they were at risk.  So they kept seeing patients, including some with fevers.  And as many of you know, one of the tricky things about Ebola is sometimes it presents itself early with symptoms that could be malaria or typhoid.  So Dr. Korkor and his colleagues didn’t have enough latex gloves to use on those illnesses -– they saved gloves for things like surgeries.  One of those patients turned out to have Ebola.  A few nurses got sick. After caring for them, Melvin tested positive as well.

He lay in bed surrounded by other patients, forcing himself to eat and drink even though he had no appetite, watching others die.  He fought off despair by reading his Bible and tried to stay calm.  And he says, as he describes it, “I said to myself I was going to make it.”  “I said to myself I was going to make it.”  The days passed.  Doctors and nurses gave him the best comfort and care that they could, and Melvin pulled through.  He survived.  And he says, “It was like being reborn.”  And now, nearly two months after being declared disease free, he’s counting down the days until his hospital reopens and he can get back to work in just a few weeks.

So, Melvin, your story reminds us that this virus can be beaten, because there are strong people, determined people in these countries who are prepared to do what it takes to save their friends and countrymen and families.  But they need a little help.

At this very moment, there are thousands of health workers like Dr. Korkor in West Africa –- on the ground, in cities, neighborhoods, in remote villages, doing everything they can to stop this virus, whatever it takes.  And we have the tools to help them, to save lives.  We have the knowledge and resources –- not just to stop this outbreak, but to prevent something like this from happening again.

It is our moral obligation and it is in our national self-interests to see this work through, to help them, to help ourselves; the commitment to make our nation and our world is more secure, and the determination to work together to protect the lives of people.  We have to be as strong and as determined and as driven as Melvin.

Thank you all for being part of this critical work.  The United States is proud to be your partner.  I’m looking forward to making sure that all these experts here get the support that they need from their leadership.  And hopefully, as a consequence of meetings like this translated into action, we’ll be savings lives for many years to come.

All right.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

12:10 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 24, 2014: First Lady Michelle Obama’s Speech at the United Nations Global Education First Initiative — Transcript



Remarks by the First Lady at United Nations Global Education First Initiative

Source: WH, 9-24-14 

United Nations
New York, New York

3:37 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Good afternoon.  It is truly a pleasure and an honor to join you today for the third annual Global Education First Initiative event.

Let me start by thanking Chernor for that just touching, very powerful, beautiful introduction.  Let’s give him a round of applause.  That was amazing.  (Applause.)  I do not feel worthy.  But I’m very proud of you and all of the other youth advocates for the tremendous work that you all are doing.  You make me proud.

I also want to recognize Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson; UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova; U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown; and, of course, the GEFI Champion Countries and Partners.

But most of all, I want to thank all of you for your visionary work on global education, particularly on the issue I want to discuss today –- an issue which is the focus of my international work as First Lady of the United States -– and that is providing quality education for girls around the world.

Now, we have made tremendous progress on this issue, particularly on primary education.  Thanks to leaders like all of you, as of 2012, every developing region in the world had achieved, or was close to achieving, gender parity in primary education.  And this is a stunning accomplishment, and we should all be proud of how far we’ve come.

But we shouldn’t be satisfied.  Because while the benefits of primary education are real and meaningful, we know that if we truly want to transform girls’ lives, if we truly want to give them the tools to shape their own destinies, then primary education often just isn’t enough.

We know that if we want girls to marry later, raise healthier children, earn good wages, then we need to send them to school through adolescence.  But we also know that adolescence marks the critical moment when a girl starts to develop from a child into a woman; when she is first subjected to the norms and prejudices that her society holds around gender.  And that is precisely when the issue of quality education truly starts to get hard.

At that point in a girl’s life, it is no longer enough to simply talk about building schools and buying supplies, because when it comes to educating adolescent girls the real challenge isn’t just about resources, it’s about attitudes and beliefs.  It’s about whether fathers and mothers think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons.  It’s about whether communities value young women for their minds, or only for the reproductive and labor capacities of their bodies.  It’s also about whether all of us are willing to confront the complex, sensitive issues that keep so many adolescent girls out of school –- issues like early and forced marriage, and genital cutting; issues like domestic violence and human trafficking.

In other words, we cannot talk about quality education for adolescent girls or hope to make meaningful and lasting progress on this issue unless we’re willing to have a much bigger and bolder conversation about how women are viewed and treated in the world today.

Now, as Chernor said, this conversation is deeply personal for me as a woman.  I know that I stand before you today because of the people in my life, particularly the men -– men like my father, grandfathers, uncles who valued me, who invested in me from the day I was born; men who pushed me to succeed in school, insisted that I have the same opportunities as my brother, urging me to find a husband who would treat me as an equal.

The issue of secondary education for girls is also personal to me as a mother.  And I know that’s true for many of you here today as well.  So many of us are parents and grandparents, and who among us would accept our daughters and granddaughters getting only a primary education?  Who among us would accept our precious girls being married off to grown men at the age of 12, becoming pregnant at 13, being unable to support themselves financially, confined to a life of dependence, fear and abuse?

None of us in this room would ever dream of accepting that kind of life for our daughters or granddaughters.  So why would we accept this for any girl in our country, or any girl on this planet?

To answer this question, all of us -– men and women here in this room and around the world –- we must do some serious self-reflection.  We must look inside ourselves and ask, do we truly value women as equals, or do we see them as merely second-class citizens?  We must look around at our societies and ask, are we clinging to laws and traditions that serve only to oppress and exclude, or are we working to become more equal, more free?

These are the very questions we are asking ourselves every day here in the United States.  Because while we’ve made tremendous progress in areas like college graduation rates and workforce participation, women here are still woefully underrepresented in our government and in the senior ranks of our corporations.

We still struggle with violence against women and harmful cultural norms that tell women how they are expected to look and act.  And we still have plenty of work to do here in America to provide a quality education and opportunity for girls and boys, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  But as we consider all the challenges we face in our countries and in countries across the globe, we must also reflect on the tremendous progress we’ve made.

Just think about where we were just 15 years ago on this issue.  Back then, if I had told you that in a little over a decade, we would see nearly 56 million more girls going to school, you would have told me I was dreaming.  But that is precisely what has happened because of people like all of you.  It’s happened because of your fierce devotion to those girls’ promise and your relentless efforts to transform their lives.

And if we truly believe that every girl in every corner of the globe is worthy of an education as our own daughters and granddaughters are, then we need to deepen our commitment to these efforts.  We need to make even more commitments and investments like the ones we’re announcing this week –- programs to provide scholarships and hygiene facilities in schools; public awareness campaigns to change attitudes about our girls; efforts to collect data on how girls learn, and so much more.

We also need to fight even harder to ensure that quality education for every child and the empowerment of women and girls are dedicated goals on our Post-2015 Development Agenda — yes, absolutely.  (Applause.)  Keeping our girls safe on their way to school, teaching them relevant skills once they’re there, and ensuring they graduate from secondary school — all of these things must be a part of our agenda.  Addressing gender-based violence in all of its forms –- from domestic violence, to genital cutting, to early and forced marriages –- all of that needs to be on the agenda too.

Because girls around the world deserve so much better.  They do.  They are so eager to learn.  And so many of them are sacrificing so much just for the chance to get an education.  I’m thinking about girls like Malala.  I’m thinking about those brave girls in Nigeria.  I’m thinking about all the girls who will never make the headlines who walk hours to school each day, who study late into the night because they are so hungry to fill every last bit of their God-given potential.

If we can show just a tiny fraction of their courage and their commitment, then I know we can give all of our girls an education worthy of their promise.  And let me just say this — in the years and decades ahead, I am so very eager to engage even more deeply with leaders in this room, across the United States and around the world on this issue until every young woman on our planet has the opportunity to learn and grow and thrive.

Thank you very much.  God bless.  (Applause.)

3:48 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 24, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at U.N. Security Council Summit on Foreign Terrorist Fighters for ISIS — Transcript



Remarks by the President at U.N. Security Council Summit on Foreign Terrorist Fighters

Source: WH, 9-24-14 

Watch the Video


United Nations
New York, New York

3:11 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, His Excellency, the Secretary-General, for his statement.  I’ll now make a statement in my capacity as President of the United States.

Mr. Secretary-General, heads of state and government distinguished representatives, thank you for being here today.

In the nearly 70 years of the United Nations, this is only the sixth time that the Security Council has met at a level like this.  We convene such sessions to address the most urgent threats to peace and security.  And I called this meeting because we must come together — as nations and an international community — to confront the real and growing threat of foreign terrorist fighters.

As I said earlier today, the tactic of terrorism is not new. So many nations represented here today, including my own, have seen our citizens killed by terrorists who target innocents.  And today, the people of the world have been horrified by another brutal murder, of Herve Gourdel, by terrorists in Algeria.  President Hollande, we stand with you and the French people not only as you grieve this terrible loss, but as you show resolve against terror and in defense of liberty.

What brings us together today, what is new is the unprecedented flow of fighters in recent years to and from conflict zones, including Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, Yemen, Libya, and most recently, Syria and Iraq.

Our intelligence agencies estimate that more than 15,000 foreign fighters from more than 80 nations have traveled to Syria in recent years.  Many have joined terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda’s affiliate, the Nusrah Front, and ISIL, which now threatens people across Syria and Iraq.  And I want to acknowledge and thank Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq for being here today.

In the Middle East and elsewhere, these terrorists exacerbate conflicts; they pose an immediate threat to people in these regions; and as we’ve already seen in several cases, they may try to return to their home countries to carry out deadly attacks.  In the face of this threat, many of our nations — working together and through the United Nations — have increased our cooperation.  Around the world, foreign terrorist fighters have been arrested, plots have been disrupted and lives have been saved.

Earlier this year at West Point, I called for a new Partnership to help nations build their capacity to meet the evolving threat of terrorism, including foreign terrorist fighters.  And preventing these individuals from reaching Syria and then slipping back across our borders is a critical element of our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

The historic resolution that we just adopted enshrines our commitment to meet this challenge.  It is legally binding.  It establishes new obligations that nations must meet.  Specifically, nations are required to “prevent and suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping” of foreign terrorist fighters, as well as the financing of their travel or activities.  Nations must “prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups” through their territory, and ensure that their domestic laws allow for the prosecution of those who attempt to do so.

The resolution we passed today calls on nations to help build the capacity of states on the front lines of this fight — including with the best practices that many of our nations approved yesterday, and which the United States will work to advance through our Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund.  This resolution will strengthen cooperation between nations, including sharing more information about the travel and activities of foreign terrorist fighters.  And it makes clear that respecting human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law is not optional — it is an essential part of successful counterterrorism efforts.  Indeed, history teaches us that the failure to uphold these rights and freedoms can actually fuel violent extremism.

Finally, this resolution recognizes that there is no military solution to the problem of misguided individuals seeking to join terrorist organizations, and it, therefore, calls on nations to work together to counter the violent extremism that can radicalize, recruit, and mobilize individuals to engage in terrorism.  Potential recruits must hear the words of former terrorist fighters who have seen the truth — that groups like ISIL betray Islam by killing innocent men, women and children, the majority of whom are Muslim.

Often it is local communities — family, friends, neighbors, and faith leaders — that are best able to identify and help disillusioned individuals before they succumb to extremist ideologies and engage in violence.  That’s why the United States government is committed to working with communities in America and around the world to build partnerships of trust, respect and cooperation.

Likewise, even as we are unrelenting against terrorists who threaten our people, we must redouble our work to address the conditions — the repression, the lack of opportunity, too often the hopelessness that can make some individuals more susceptible to appeals to extremism and violence.  And this includes continuing to pursue a political solution in Syria that allows all Syrians to live in security, dignity, and peace.

This is the work that we must do as nations.  These are the partnerships we must forge as an international community.  And these are the standards that we now must meet.  Yet even as we’re guided by the commitments that we make here today, let me close by stating the obvious.  Resolutions alone will not be enough.  Promises on paper cannot keep us safe.  Lofty rhetoric and good intentions will not stop a single terrorist attack.

The words spoken here today must be matched and translated into action, into deeds — concrete action, within nations and between them, not just in the days ahead, but for years to come. For if there was ever a challenge in our interconnected world that cannot be met by any one nation alone, it is this:  terrorists crossing borders and threatening to unleash unspeakable violence.  These terrorists believe our countries will be unable to stop them.  The safety of our citizens demand that we do.  And I’m here today to say that all of you who are committed to this urgent work will find a strong and steady partner in the United States of America.

I now would like to resume my function as President of the Council.  And I will now give the floor to the other members of the Security Council.

3:19 P.M. EDT

Political Musings September 24, 2014: In UN speech Obama issues call to destroy ISIS the “cancer of violent extremism”





In UN speech Obama issues call to destroy ISIS the “cancer of violent extremism”

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama delivered his annual address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 where he covered important issues the United States is facing at home and abroad. The president emphasized in…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 24, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Luncheon with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — Transcript



Remarks by President Obama at Luncheon with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

Source: WH, 9-24-14 

United Nations Building
New York City, New York

1:51 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, good afternoon.  First of all, you should know that the Secretary General was late because of me.  I take the blame.

Second of all, I do think it’s appropriate to thank the incredible hospitality of the people of New York City.  Some of you know I lived in New York, went to school in New York.  Love New York, love the people.  But as somebody who has lived here as a civilian during UNGA, it is no fun.  (Laughter.)  In fact, in 2008, I had already won the nomination, was a month away from my election as President, and had full Secret Service and I still couldn’t get through the traffic and had to walk three blocks in order to get into the building.  That’s how bad it was.  So it is tough.

But to the people of New York, we want to thank you for doing what you do, because you are such an incredible, incredible city.

I’ve already given a long speech today.  I’m going to be very brief.  As host nation, I want to thank all of you for your commitment to our work.  Nobody works harder and truer to the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations than our Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon.  (Applause.)  And so I want to publicly thank him for his tireless work on every issue — from Ebola to climate change, to violations of human rights, to armed conflict, he is on the job and been doing outstanding work.

I also want to recognize the thousands of men and women at the United Nations who give meaning and action to all the words that we politicians produce during the course of General Assembly meetings and Security Council meetings.  Oftentimes, they operate outside of the limelight.  But if it were not for their dedication, hard work and sacrifice, then this would just be a debating club.  And so we want to thank very much all the employees and staff of the United Nations not just for helping to facilitate this meeting, but for what they do all year around.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

Along those same lines, we want to salute the thousands of Blue Helmets who stand sentinel around the world, particularly across Africa and the Middle East.  The tragic loss of five peacekeepers in Mali last week reminds us that there are real risks that these peacekeepers take on so that others can lead a better life.

We salute the United Nations aid workers who are on the front lines of humanitarian efforts in Syria, delivering comfort and support to civilians battered by civil war.

And we thank the heroic U.N. health workers in West Africa who are combatting Ebola and caring for the sick at some risk to themselves.

These men and women, from so many of our nations, reflect the common pursuit of peace and prosperity.  We could not be prouder of their work.  They represent what I think the United Nations should be all about.  And when I think of them, I’m reminded that although all of us have the extraordinary privilege of representing our countries in very high offices, the truth is change happens on the ground, and none of us can do this alone.

So I propose a toast to the human spirit that these workers and personnel and peacekeepers around the world represent — the best of who we are, and what we all share in common as children of God and as people who hope to pass on peace and prosperity to our children and our grandchildren for generations to come.

Cheers.  (A toast is given.)  (Applause.)

1:56 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 24, 2014: President Obama’s 2014 Speech Address to the United Nations General Assembly — Transcript



Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by President Barack Obama, Address to the United Nations General Assembly

Source: WH, 9-24-14

President Obama speaks during the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept 24. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

September 24, 2014
New York City, NY 

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: we come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.

Around the globe, there are signposts of progress. The shadow of World War that existed at the founding of this institution has been lifted; the prospect of war between major powers reduced. The ranks of member states has more than tripled, and more people live under governments they elected. Hundreds of millions of human beings have been freed from the prison of poverty, with the proportion of those living in extreme poverty cut in half.  And the world economy continues to strengthen after the worst financial crisis of our lives.

Today, whether you live in downtown New York or in my grandmother’s village more than two hundred miles from Nairobi, you can hold in your hand more information than the world’s greatest libraries. Together, we have learned how to cure disease, and harness the power of the wind and sun. The very existence of this institution is a unique achievement – the people of the world committing to resolve their differences peacefully, and solve their problems together. I often tell young people in the United States that this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, and to be free to pursue your dreams.

And yet there is a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers, and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces. As we gather here, an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa, and threatens to move rapidly across borders. Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.

Each of these problems demands urgent attention. But they are also symptoms of a broader problem – the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world. We have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries. Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe.

Fellow delegates, we come together as United Nations with a choice to make. We can renew the international system that has enabled so much progress, or allow ourselves to be pulled back by an undertow of instability. We can reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront global problems, or be swamped by more and more outbreaks of instability. For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort. We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs; we choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.

There is much that must be done to meet the tests of this moment. But today I’d like to focus on two defining questions at the root of many of our challenges– whether the nations here today will be able to renew the purpose of the UN’s founding; and whether we will come together to reject the cancer of violent extremism.

First, all of us – big nations and small – must meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms.

We are here because others realized that we gain more from cooperation than conquest. One hundred years ago, a World War claimed the lives of many millions, proving that with the terrible power of modern weaponry, the cause of empire leads to the graveyard. It would take another World War to roll back the forces of fascism and racial supremacy, and form this United Nations to ensure that no nation can subjugate its neighbors and claim their territory.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine challenge this post-war order. Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled.  Against the will of the government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed. Russia poured arms into Eastern Ukraine, fueling violent separatists and a conflict that has killed thousands. When a civilian airliner was shot down from areas that these proxies controlled, they refused to allow access to the crash for days. When Ukraine started to reassert control over its territory, Russia gave up the pretense of merely supporting the separatists, and moved troops across the border.

This is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.

These are simple truths, but they must be defended. America and our allies will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. We will reinforce our NATO allies, and uphold our commitment to collective defense. We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.

Moreover, a different path is available – the path of diplomacy and peace and the ideals this institution is designed to uphold. The recent cease-fire agreement in Ukraine offers an opening to achieve that objective. If Russia takes that path – a path that for stretches of the post-Cold War period resulted in prosperity for the Russian people – then we will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges. That’s what the United States and Russia have been able to do in past years – from reducing our nuclear stockpiles to meet our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to cooperating to remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons. And that’s the kind of cooperation we are prepared to pursue again—if Russia changes course.

This speaks to a central question of our global age: whether we will solve our problems together, in a spirit of mutual interests and mutual respect, or whether we descend into destructive rivalries of the past. When nations find common ground, not simply based on power, but on principle, then we can make enormous progress. And I stand before you today committed to investing American strength in working with nations to address the problems we face in the 21st century.

As we speak, America is deploying our doctors and scientists – supported by our military – to help contain the outbreak of Ebola and pursue new treatments. But we need a broader effort to stop a disease that could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific suffering, destabilize economies, and move rapidly across borders. It’s easy to see this as a distant problem – until it isn’t. That is why we will continue mobilizing other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this outbreak, and enhance global health security for the long-term.

America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them. This can only happen if Iran takes this historic opportunity. My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.

America is and will continue to be a Pacific power, promoting peace, stability, and the free flow of commerce among nations. But we will insist that all nations abide by the rules of the road, and resolve their territorial disputes peacefully, consistent with international law. That’s how the Asia-Pacific has grown. And that’s the only way to protect this progress going forward.

America is committed to a development agenda that eradicates extreme poverty by 2030. We will do our part – to help people feed themselves; power their economies; and care for their sick. If the world acts together, we can make sure that all of our children can enjoy lives of opportunity and dignity

America is pursuing ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions, and we have increased our investments in clean energy. We will do our part, and help developing nations to do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every major power. That’s how we can protect this planet for our children and grandchildren.

On issue after issue, we cannot rely on a rule-book written for a different century. If we lift our eyes beyond our borders – if we think globally and act cooperatively – we can shape the course of this century as our predecessors shaped the post-World War II age. But as we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail such progress: and that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.

Of course, terrorism is not new. Speaking before this Assembly, President Kennedy put it well: “Terror is not a new weapon,” he said. “Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example.” In the 20th century, terror was used by all manner of groups who failed to come to power through public support. But in this century, we have faced a more lethal and ideological brand of terrorists who have perverted one of the world’s great religions. With access to technology that allows small groups to do great harm, they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels – killing as many innocent civilians as possible; and employing the most brutal methods to intimidate people within their communities.

I have made it clear that America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism. Rather, we have waged a focused campaign against al Qaeda and its associated forces – taking out their leaders, and denying them the safe-havens they rely upon. At the same time, we have reaffirmed that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no us and them – there is only us, because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country.

So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.

This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment. Moreover, this campaign against extremism goes beyond a narrow security challenge. For while we have methodically degraded core al Qaeda and supported a transition to a sovereign Afghan government, extremist ideology has shifted to other places – particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where a quarter of young people have no job; food and water could grow scarce; corruption is rampant; and sectarian conflicts have become increasingly hard to contain.

As an international community, we must meet this challenge with a focus on four areas.  First, the terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed.

This group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria. Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded, with videos of the atrocity distributed to shock the conscience of the world.

No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.

In this effort, we do not act alone. Nor do we intend to send U.S. troops to occupy foreign lands.  Instead, we will support Iraqis and Syrians fighting to reclaim their communities. We will use our military might in a campaign of air strikes to roll back ISIL. We will train and equip forces fighting against these terrorists on the ground. We will work to cut off their financing, and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region. Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition. Today, I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build – not those who destroy.

Second, it is time for the world – especially Muslim communities – to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL.

It is the task of all great religions to accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world. No children – anywhere – should be educated to hate other people. There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim. It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology.

That means cutting off the funding that fuels this hate. It’s time to end the hypocrisy of those who accumulate wealth through the global economy, and then siphon funds to those who teach children to tear it down.

That means contesting the space that terrorists occupy – including the Internet and social media. Their propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars, and turned students into suicide bombers. We must offer an alternative vision.

That means bringing people of different faiths together. All religions have been attacked by extremists from within at some point, and all people of faith have a responsibility to lift up the value at the heart of all religion: do unto thy neighbor as you would have done unto you.

The ideology of ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed, confronted, and refuted in the light of day. Look at the new Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies – Sheikh bin Bayyah described its purpose: “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace.” Look at the young British Muslims, who responded to terrorist propaganda by starting the “notinmyname” campaign, declaring – “ISIS is hiding behind a false Islam.” Look at the Christian and Muslim leaders who came together in the Central African Republic to reject violence – listen to the Imam who said, “Politics try to divide the religious in our country, but religion shouldn’t be a cause of hate, war, or strife.”

Later today, the Security Council will adopt a resolution that underscores the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism. But resolutions must be followed by tangible commitments, so we’re accountable when we fall short.  Next year, we should all be prepared to announce the concrete steps that we have taken to counter extremist ideologies – by getting intolerance out of schools, stopping radicalization before it spreads, and promoting institutions and programs that build new bridges of understanding.

Third, we must address the cycle of conflict – especially sectarian conflict – that creates the conditions that terrorists prey upon.

There is nothing new about wars within religions. Christianity endured centuries of vicious sectarian conflict. Today, it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery. It is time to acknowledge the destruction wrought by proxy wars and terror campaigns between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East. And it is time that political, civic and religious leaders reject sectarian strife. Let’s be clear: this is a fight that no one is winning. A brutal civil war in Syria has already killed nearly 200,000 people and displaced millions. Iraq has come perilously close to plunging back into the abyss. The conflict has created a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists who inevitably export this violence.

Yet, we also see signs that this tide could be reversed – a new, inclusive government in Baghdad; a new Iraqi Prime Minister welcomed by his neighbors; Lebanese factions rejecting those who try to provoke war. These steps must be followed by a broader truce. Nowhere is this more necessary than Syria. Together with our partners, America is training and equipping the Syrian opposition to be a counterweight to the terrorists of ISIL and the brutality of the Assad regime. But the only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war is political – an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or creed.

Cynics may argue that such an outcome can never come to pass. But there is no other way for this madness to end – whether one year from now or ten. Indeed, it’s time for a broader negotiation in which major powers address their differences directly, honestly, and peacefully across the table from one another, rather than through gun-wielding proxies. I can promise you America will remain engaged in the region, and we are prepared to engage in that effort.

My fourth and final point is a simple one: the countries of the Arab and Muslim world must focus on the extraordinary potential of their people – especially the youth.

Here I’d like to speak directly to young people across the Muslim world. You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder. Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it.

You have demonstrated that when young people have the tools to succeed –good schools; education in math and science; an economy that nurtures creativity and entrepreneurship – then societies will flourish. So America will partner with those who promote that vision.

Where women are full participants in a country’s politics or economy, societies are more likely to succeed.  That’s why we support the participation of women in parliaments and in peace processes; in schools and the economy.

If young people live in places where the only option is between the dictates of a state, or the lure of an extremist underground – no counter-terrorism strategy can succeed. But where a genuine civil society is allowed to flourish – where people can express their views, and organize peacefully for a better life – then you dramatically expand the alternatives to terror.

Such positive change need not come at the expense of tradition and faith. We see this in Iraq, where a young man started a library for his peers. “We link Iraq’s heritage to their hearts,” he said, and “give them a reason to stay.” We see it in Tunisia, where secular and Islamist parties worked together through a political process to produce a new constitution. We see it in Senegal, where civil society thrives alongside a strong, democratic government. We see it in Malaysia, where vibrant entrepreneurship is propelling a former colony into the ranks of advanced economies. And we see it in Indonesia, where what began as a violent transition has evolved into a genuine democracy.

Ultimately, the task of rejecting sectarianism and extremism is a generational task – a task for the people of the Middle East themselves. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds. But America will be a respectful and constructive partner. We will neither tolerate terrorist safe-havens, nor act as an occupying power. Instead, we will take action against threats to our security – and our allies – while building an architecture of counter-terrorism cooperation. We will increase efforts to lift up those who counter extremist ideology, and seek to resolve sectarian conflict. And we will expand our programs to support entrepreneurship, civil society, education and youth – because, ultimately, these investments are the best antidote to violence.

Leadership will also be necessary to address the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. As bleak as the landscape appears, America will never give up the pursuit of peace. The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home. And the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. But let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable. We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza. So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just with two states living side by side, in peace and security.

This is what America is prepared to do – taking action against immediate threats, while pursuing a world in which the need for such action is diminished. The United States will never shy away from defending our interests, but nor will we shrink from the promise of this institution and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the notion that peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of a better life.

I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within our own borders. This is true. In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.

But we welcome the scrutiny of the world – because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect. America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals, and are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. Because we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and independent judiciary.  Because we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and countries for the better.

After nearly six years as President, I believe that this promise can help light the world. Because I’ve seen a longing for positive change – for peace and freedom and opportunity – in the eyes of young people I’ve met around the globe. They remind me that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what God you pray to, or who you love, there is something fundamental that we all share. Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the UN and America’s role in it, once asked, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places,” she said, “close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”

The people of the world look to us, here, to be as decent, as dignified, and as courageous as they are in their daily lives. And at this crossroads, I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done. We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.


Political Musings September 23, 2014: Obama readies for UN General Assembly speech uniting coalition for ISIS fight





Obama readies for UN General Assembly speech uniting coalition for ISIS fight

By Bonnie K. Goodman

As President Barack Obama is preparing his speech on Sept. 24, 2014 to the United Nations General Assembly in New York about uniting allies in the coalition to fight ISIS, The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, he is also…READ MORE

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



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.)

10:52 A.M. EDT

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





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

By Bonnie K. Goodman

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





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’





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


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



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.


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





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




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



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.)


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.)

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



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


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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