President Obama stepped to the podium this morning at the United Nations General Assembly and declared, "This year has been a time of transformation. More nations have stepped forward to maintain international peace and security. And more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity." Yet Iran stands out, oppressing its people, defaulting on its international obligations and sending to New York a leader who is weaker than ever before. U.S. leadership, coalition pressure and the prospect of diplomacy have put Iran under unprecedented pressure, even as outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen reminded us yesterday that diplomacy and outreach between our countries was "something we all need to spend a lot of time on."
Today President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly, expressing his vision of America's role in the world and reflecting on changes in the international landscape since he last addressed the General Assembly. The president pointed to progress on terrorism; democracy movements in the Middle East and Africa; transitions in Iraq and Afghanistan; efforts to promtoe open government and human rights; and strengthened alliances aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. "[I]t has been a remarkable year," President Obama said. "Something is happening in our world. The way things have been is not the way they will be."
President Obama prepares to address the United Nations General Assembly with solid public support for his national security policies. An approach that combines robust U.S. leadership with U.S. engagement at the UN and another international institutions is paying off - in progress fighting terrorism, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and supporting transitions away from dictatorship and toward democracy. The past year of transformation presents the U.S. with major new opportunities and challenges. Partnerships like those forged at the UN will be central to both promoting our interests and balancing international responsibilities with our needs at home.
When Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in New York next week to address the UN General Assembly, he will do so with little power at home and as one of the last remaining authoritarian figures in the region. International pressure continues to mount against Iran as questions about its nuclear program go unanswered and its internal crackdown persists. Iran is clearly feeling this pressure. In recent days, Iran has signaled that it may be open to discussing nuclear issues that it had previously refused to address and has launched an all-out "charm offensive" against additional pressure and isolation.
Yesterday, the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly opened in New York, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors convened for its second day, and reports out of Iran suggested modest yet significant progress on human rights and nuclear talks. Against this backdrop, the National Security Network and the Project on Middle East Democracy hosted a panel discussion of how the democracy movements sweeping the Arab world are interacting with regional dynamics to create new opportunities and challenges for the U.S. - and how this is playing out at the United Nations.
This weekend tensions rose in the Middle East and diplomats prepared for a possible vote in the UN General Assembly on Palestinian statehood. In dramatic and quickly-changing circumstances, the U.S. has unchanging national interests: an unshakeable commitment to the security of our ally Israel and a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel owed President Obama "a special measure of gratitude" for U.S. work with Egypt to protect Israeli diplomatic personnel under siege. At the same time, the weekend's events highlight the importance of close U.S. ties with all the countries of the region - and visible progress toward resolving the conflict. The perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments extremism and frustration in the Arab world, creating challenges for U.S. military, diplomatic and economic objectives. Progress toward resolving the conflict will not resolve all of the problems in the Middle East, but it will make it easier to pursue core U.S. interests, in addition to making life safer and easier for Israelis and Palestinians.
Iran returns to the world stage this week, in U.S. electoral politics and in anticipation of a discussion of its nuclear ambitions, human rights violations and political weakness at the United Nations General Assembly and International Atomic Energy Agency next week. Iran presents itself with menacing actions that consistently come up short - technical delays in its nuclear program, regional allies turned pariah in Syria, autocracy left behind by its "Arab Spring" neighbors. Dealing with Iran will require persistence, international unity and strategic patience - we have opportunities for influence, but no magic bullets.