Obama at U.N. says Iran nuclear program, Arab-Israeli conflict both ‘major source’ of Mideast instability

(JNS.org) In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama named Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and advancing Arab-Israeli peace as two of his top foreign policy issues.

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, addresses the general debate of the sixty-eighth session of the General Assembly on Sept. 24. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

“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,” Obama said.

Obama said these two issues “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 president expressed hope that calls by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, for engagement over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program would lead to a breakthrough. But Obama added that “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.”

The U.S. and Iran are pushing ahead this week with high-level talks—the highest bilateral talks between the countries since Iran’s 1979 revolution—between Secretary of State John Kerry and top Iranian officials.

Obama reaffirmed America’s commitment to the “existence of a Jewish state” and defending Israel “against terror attacks,” but also said the “occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric” of the country. He said the “time is now ripe” for both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to get behind the cause of peace.

Elliott Abrams, who held foreign policy positions for presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, criticized Obama for saying that the Palestinians “have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state.”

“Security, dignity–but not freedom and democracy,” Abrams wrote for Weekly Standard.” This suggests a very unfortunate return to the policy of the Clinton administration, which was willing to hand a Palestinian state to Yasser Arafat, and a turn away from the Bush policy of saying that the nature of a Palestinian state and government is more important than its borders.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) leaders praised Obama’s speech and said they shared the president’s “goals of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace and averting the Iranian nuclear threat,” but added that those goals “should not be linked or equated.”

“The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one between two parties, which will be resolved through compromise and direct negotiations,” ADL National Chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher and ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a joint statement. “A nuclear-armed Iran represents a direct threat to the U.S., its allies across the region and to global stability, which requires international strength and unity to prevent. Equating these very different objectives gives the impression that the dangers posed are similar and that the approaches to their resolutions are somehow linked.”

On Syria, Obama urged the U.N. to approve a resolution on disarming Syria’s chemical weapons program, and said the U.S. will provide an additional $340 million in humanitarian aid. The U.S. has already provided more than $1 billion in aid to Syrians. 

Posted on September 24, 2013 .