Speaking today before the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama maintained that he would continue to pursue diplomacy in both Syria and Iran. In terms of the former, Obama acknowledged the difficult position that the U.S. now occupies. "The crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront," he said. "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?"
Obama demanded a "strong" Security Council Resolution to enforce the commitments made by the Assad regime in regards to chemical weapons. And while he he acknowledged that "military action... [cannot] achieve a lasting peace," he also demanded that Iran and Russia recognize that a return to pre-war Syria is "a fantasy" and that continued support for Assad's government will only lead to "an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate."
While the president announced that the U.S. would provide an additional $340 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, he also underscored that the possibility of a strike is not off the table. "The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region."
In terms of Iran, Obama said that he is "encouraged" by Iran's current moderate approach. Last week, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani declared that his country would never develop a nuclear weapon, and has appeared to seek a resolution with the U.S. Still, Obama hard-lined his position and did not let Iran off the hook for its past transgressions: "To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable," he argued. "After all, it is the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. This isn’t simply an issue between America 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."
While many have speculated that American and Iranian presidents might meet this week — potentially the first time since 1977 — Rouhani was no present during Obama's speech today. While a meeting is still possible, plans for another engagement were set for Thursday, when Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet to discuss Iran's nuclear program. It will be the highest-level meeting between the two nations in over 30 years,.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Iran and the U.S. will be able to forge the necessary level of trust. While Obama chastised Iran for evading its responsibilities, America hardly appears "exceptional" in the eyes of the rest of the world. In a speech before Obama's, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff — who cancelled a visit to the United States last week after reports surfaced that the NSA had spied on her personal email — called American espionage "totally unacceptable" when directed against its allies. "Meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations," she said. (NYTimes)
Photo: Via The New York Times.