U.S. President Barack Obama called on the global community Thursday to rally behind U.S.-led efforts for a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a year. In his U.N. General Assembly address, the president also called on Iran to confirm the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.
The annual address to the General Assembly by the U.S. president is normally a wide-ranging compilation of the nation's foreign policy themes. Mr. Obama put unusual stress, though, on the U.S.-brokered direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began early this month and aim at a two-state peace accord with a year.
The talks face an early hurdle amid Palestinian threats to walk out if Israel fails to extend a 10-month moratorium on most West Bank settlement activity that expires in a week. President Obama reiterated U.S. calls for an extension. He also appealed to Arab governments to actively support the peace process.
"Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps toward the normalization that it promises Israel," said the president. "And those who speak on behalf of Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially, and in so doing, help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state."
The President said the rights of the Palestinians can be won only by peaceful means. He added that those who long to see an independent Palestine must "stop trying to tear down Israel."
"Efforts to chip away at Israel's legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States," said President Obama. "And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people. The slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance, it's injustice. Make no mistake - the courage of a man like [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas - who stands up for his people in front of the world under very difficult circumstances - is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children."
On Iran, Mr. Obama said Tehran had failed to respond to what he called the "extended hand" he offered a year ago for dialogue on the country's nuclear program. He said the U.N. Security Council sanctions, approved in June, make clear that the application international law with regard to Iran is not an empty promise.
Nonetheless, President Obama stressed that the continued readiness of major world powers, reaffirmed by their foreign ministers here on Wednesday, to resolve the issue through dialogue.
"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."
A senior U.S. official said Wednesday there are signs Iran might be ready to resume a nuclear dialogue during the next few months, but that Tehran had not confirmed its intentions to the European Union.
In his 33-minute address, Mr. Obama drew applause when defending women's rights and urging nations to act against oppression, saying that concerned countries must not stand idly by when dissidents elsewhere are imprisoned and protestors are beaten.
The president was several minutes late arriving in the assembly hall and Switzerland took the traditional U.S. position on the speakers list, after Brazil.
Mr. Obama has a series of bilateral meetings on the sidelines General Assembly session with, among others, the leaders of China, Japan and Colombia. He is expected to take part in a group meeting on Friday aimed at advancing peace efforts in Sudan.
President Obama's remarks on Middle East peace process: