By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2013 – In a speech at the United Nations today, President Barack Obama described key United States’ interests in North Africa and the Middle East and made clear America is prepared to use force to back them up.
“The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region,” Obama told the General Assembly in New York.
The nation, he said, will confront external aggression against allies and partners in the region.
“We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world,” Obama said. While the United States is reducing its oil imports, the world still depends on Middle Eastern oil and gas. A severe disruption could destabilize the global economy.
“We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people,” the president said. “Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when it is necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attack, we will take direct action.”
And, the United States will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. “Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime,” Obama said.
It is in U.S. interests to see a peaceful, prosperous, stable and democratic Middle East, Obama said, but the United States cannot force this.
“We can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action, particularly through military action,” he said. “Iraq shows us that democracy cannot simply be imposed by force. Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community and with the countries and peoples of the region.”
The president illustrated the U.S. position using Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab-Israeli conflict as examples.
“While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace,” Obama said.
The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since 1979. Mistrust between the two nations has developed over the years.
“This mistrust has deep roots,” the president said. “Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly -- or through proxies -- taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.”
Resolving the issue of Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons could go a long way toward an improved relationship between the two countries, Obama said.
The United States is resolved to not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. “We are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy,” the president said. “Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
On the Iranian side, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.
“These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement,” Obama said. “We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it's the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. And this is not simply an issue between the United States and Iran.”
The president has directed Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union, Russia and China.
The conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is also a flashpoint that needs to be dampened, the president said. “I’ve made it clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state,” he said.
The United States also remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state, he said.
Now is the time for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace in the area, Obama said. Israeli and Palestinian leaders are meeting. Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.
“So now the rest of us must be willing to take risks as well,” the president said. “Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state, and we should say so clearly. Arab states, and those who supported the Palestinians, must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution and a secure Israel.”
The nations of the world must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists throughout the region, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future, Obama said.
Real breakthroughs on the Iranian nuclear program and Palestinian-Israeli peace would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa, the president said.
“But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations,” he said. “It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations. And by that measure, it’s clear that all of us have a lot more work to do.”