UNITED NATIONS (TRNS) – President Barack Obama told the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and nuclear negotiations with Iran are America’s top foreign policy priorities.
“Real breakthroughs on these two issues,” Obama said, “would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa.”
An Opening With Iran
For the first time since the 1970’s, American and Iranian leaders will meet face-to-face, in the form of an encounter between Obama and newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
“The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979,” Obama said. “This mistrust has deep roots.”
“I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight,” Obama said, “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.”
Obama said that he had repeatedly expressed to Iran his willingness to engage in open dialogue, and that despite the risk that such talks could end in failure, the “status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation.”
“The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” Obama said.
Citing his impression that, “Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks,” President Obama said, “the time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace.”
As with his remarks on Iran, Obama reiterated America’s support for Israel, but acknowledged the overriding concerns of Palestinians.
Obama said Palestinians are “understandably cynical” about the prospects of successful peace talks and “frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation.”
“I believe there is a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state,” he said.
Although Obama conceded America had developed a “hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries,” now is not the time for the U.S. to retreat from achieving its overriding policy aims in the Middle East:
“The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war; rightly concerned about issues back home; and 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 that would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. I believe the world is better for it.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly later this afternoon, while the State of Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are slated for appearances on Thursday morning and next Tuesday, respectively.