Highlights From Obama's Speech at the UN

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Today, Obama addressed the UN General Assembly in New York. He gave a sweeping speech touching on the most pressing global issues of the day, with a particular focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Referencing peace talks at the White House earlier this month, Obama quoted statements from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledging to work toward peaceful coexistence. He called upon both sides to follow through on these statements:

These words must be followed by action, and I believe that both leaders have the courage to do so. But the road that they have to travel is difficult, which is why I call upon Israelis and Palestinians - and the world - to rally behind the goal that these leaders share. We know there will be tests along the way, and that one is fast approaching. Israel's settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks. Our position on this issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium should be extended. We also believe that talks should press on until completed. Now is the time for the parties to help each other overcome this obstacle.

In a strong affirmation of Israel's existential rights, Obama praised the nation's existence:

After thousands of years, Jews and Arabs are not strangers in a strange land. And after sixty years in the community of nations, Israel's existence must not be a subject for debate. Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel's legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States. And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people - the slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance, it is injustice. Make no mistake: the courage of a man like President Abbas - who stands up for his people in front of the world - is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children.

Lurking between the lines of Obama's speech, of course, are Iran's mounting threats toward Israel. While the president did not specifically chastise Iran for its hostility toward Israel, he did confirm the U.S.'s stance on Iran's nuclear activities:

As part of our efforts on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said - in this hall - that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities. That is what we have done. Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through UN Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.
 
Now let me be clear once more: the United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

Obama also touched on the challenge of climate change, though he offered no specific plans on how the U.S. or other nations planned to follow through on their goals to cut emissions:

As we combat the spread of deadly weapons, we are also confronting the specter of climate change. After making historic investments in clean energy and efficiency at home, we helped forge an Accord in Copenhagen that - for the first time - commits all major economies to reduce their emissions. This is just a first step. Going forward, we will support a process in which all major economies meet our responsibilities to protect our planet, while unleashing the power of clean energy to serve as an engine of growth and development.

In a somewhat veiled but targeted statement, Obama also condemned the recent anti-Muslim fervor that's been sweeping the U.S. in the wake of controversies surrounding the construction of an Islamic center at Ground Zero and a Florida pastor's plans to publicly burn the Koran. After recalling the tragedy of 9/11 and acts of terrorism across the globe, Obama said:

Underneath these challenges to our security and prosperity lie deeper fears: that ancient hatreds and religious divides are once again ascendant; that a world which has grown more interconnected has somehow slipped beyond our control.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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