Obama at the UN on Tuesday. (AP)
Sept. 24: President Obama said today that Iran’s diplomatic overture in recent weeks could provide a foundation for an agreement on its nuclear programme.
However, he warned that “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable”.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly, Obama sounded a cautiously optimistic tone about the prospects for diplomacy, saying he had instructed secretary of state John Kerry to pursue face-to-face negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme. “The roadblocks may prove to be too great,” he said, “but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.”
Obama also called on the Security Council to pass a “strong” resolution that would impose consequences on Syria if it failed to turn over its chemical weapons. The American threat of military action against Syria, Obama said, set in motion diplomatic efforts with Russia to take over and eventually destroy Assad’s weapons.
“Without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all,” the President said. “If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the UN 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.”
Obama also announced that the US would pledge an additional $340 million in humanitarian aid to help refugees from the civil war in Syria. And while he praised the diplomatic initiative by Russia on chemical weapons, he also said that the continuing support of Russia and Iran for the government of President Bashar al-Assad risked leading to further extremism in Syria.
Obama’s speech came at a time of swift, almost disorienting diplomatic developments, with the White House first threatening a military strike against Syria, then backing off, and then suddenly encountering a diplomatic opening with Iran on its nuclear programme. Obama tried to take account of all of it, in a wide-ranging speech that echoed some of the themes of his address last spring on the changing American role in the world.
“For the United States,” he said, “these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war-footing.”
Obama emphasised three areas: the civil war and the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the prospect of diplomacy with Iran, and West Asia peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, which has recently restarted under the prodding of Kerry.
“The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace,” he said.