President Barack Obama called the United States “exceptional” and defended its strong role in global affairs during a sweeping speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, a comment that directly rebuked a controversial assertion from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The speech provided important developments on a large swath of global affairs — with an almost exclusive focus on the Middle East.
Obama pressed for a U.N. Security Council Resolution that threatens “consequences” if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not surrender his chemical weapons. And as he was speaking, the White House announced an additional $339 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, bringing the country’s total to $1.4 billion over the course of the Syrian crisis.
“It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack,” Obama said, in another shot at Putin, who has suggested that Syrian rebels could be responsible for an Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack that spurred U.S. and U.N. involvement.
“Now, there must be a strong Security Council Resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so. If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the U.N. is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.”
Obama also signaled the highest-level engagement between the U.S. and Iran in three decades. He said that he has directed Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a “diplomatic path” with Iran’s government, which comes after overtures and “conciliatory” statements from Iranian President Hasan Rouhani on the country’s nuclear program.
Obama said that he believes Iran has the right to pursue “peaceful nuclear energy.”
“The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested,” he said. “For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential – in commerce and culture; in science and education.”
Finally, Obama pressed for a resolution in the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis — doubling down on restarted talks that have been spearheaded, recently, by Kerry.
“The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace,” Obama said, adding that it is necessary even in the face of risks.