WHITE HOUSE - When the leaders of the United States and United Nations meet, there is seemingly no limit to the number of pressing issues that are up for discussion. President Barack Obama acknowledged the demands on the United Nations have never been greater when he welcomed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the White House for talks Tuesday.
Obama said the “urgency of a world response” to the threat of climate change topped the list of issues during their talks, which came a day after he unveiled a plan to sharply cut the carbon pollution produced by American power plants.
The president's call to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is opposed by major U.S. industry groups as too costly and illegal. Republicans in Congress vowed to fight the tougher power plant standards, saying they would hurt coal-mining states.
Sitting next to Ban in the Oval Office, Obama said he highlighted U.S. work on renewable energy and meeting “aggressive” targets in preparation for the U.N. climate conference in Paris later this year.
He said he encouraged the secretary-general “to continue to work with us to press those countries who have not yet put forward bold, aggressive plans to do so. Because we need Paris to be a success, and the world has to step up in a concerted way on behalf of our children and future generations.”
Ban commended Obama’s strong commitment to climate change from his first day in office, noting his “visionary and bold” announcement Monday.
“This Clean Power Plan powers economies and generates jobs. And also it can generate huge dividends here at home in the U.S. economy,” Ban said, turning to Obama. “And I am sure this will impact a lot of countries. And I really appreciate your personal engagement, starting with China, Brazil and India and many others.”
Syria, Yemen, Libya
Conflicts in the Middle East were also a focus of the talks between Obama and Ban, with the two leaders sharing “deep concerns” about the humanitarian situation in Syria. Obama noted the need to “stop the killing and arrive at a realistic, political process that can lead to a stabilizing of the country.”
But diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving Syria's political conflict have stalled. The United States leads an anti-Islamic State coalition conducting airstrikes in Syria, and recently welcomed Turkey's adoption of a military role in Syria.
Ban said the United Nations is trying to expedite humanitarian assistance to the war-torn nation.
The secretary-general also made a plea to member states for generous humanitarian assistance in Yemen, where he said 80 percent of the population, or more than 21 million people, is in need of urgent help. Ban said both leaders reinforced the need for a political, not military, solution in that country.
And in Libya, Obama noted some “modest progress” in bringing together the many factions that have created great difficulty in governance and “created a vacuum that is causing everything from to an outflow of refugees to the safe havens for organizations like ISIL,” an acronym used for the Islamic State group.
Both leaders also discussed the situation in South Sudan, with the secretary-general praising the president’s efforts to stop the violence. He noted Obama’s recent trip to Ethiopia, where the president convened a meeting with regional leaders on South Sudan.
Obama said hope regarding South Sudan’s recognition as a country had been squandered by President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar. He said the goal is to have an agreement in place by August 17 to stop the bloodshed and move forward with an inclusive government.
“If they miss that target, then I think it is our view that it’s going to be necessary for us to move forward with a different plan and recognize that those leaders are incapable of creating the peace that is required,” Obama said.
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