BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States, said that, although the end of America’s involvement in a decade of war was a shift away from a “perpetual war-footing”, a glance at today’s headlines indicated the dangers that remained. The convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa had laid bare deep divisions within societies. Peaceful movements had been answered by violence — from those resisting change and from extremists trying to hijack change. Nowhere had those trends converged more powerfully than in Syria. The international community recognized the stakes, but its response had not matched the scale of the challenge. Aid could not keep pace with the suffering; a peace process was still-born; extremist groups had taken root to exploit the crisis; Assad’s traditional allies had propped him up, and, on 21 August, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.
President Obama asked: “How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war?” As a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons. When he stated his willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response, he said he “did not do so lightly”. The ban against chemical weapons had been agreed to by 98 per cent of humanity, and strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches, Jews slaughtered in gas chambers and Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands. The evidence was overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on 21 August. It was an insult to human reason and to United Nations’ legitimacy to suggest that anyone other than the regime had carried out that attack.
The Syrian Government, he continued, had taken a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now was the time for a strong Security Council resolution to verify that it would keep its commitments, or face consequences if it did not. “If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.” He did not believe that military action — by those within Syria, or by external Powers — could achieve a lasting peace. Neither did he think a leader who “slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death” could regain the legitimacy to lead a “badly fractured country”. The notion that Syria could return to a pre-war status quo was a “fantasy”, he said.
Time had come for the Russian Federation and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule would lead to the outcome they feared: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate, he said. It was important to support the moderate opposition within Syrian. The Syrian people could not afford a collapse of State institutions, he underlined, stressing that a political settlement could not be reached without addressing the legitimate fears of Alawites and other minorities. Pursuing a settlement was “not a zero-sum endeavour”, nor did the United States have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbours, the elimination of chemical weapons and ensuring it did not become a safe haven for terrorists. As the international community moved the Geneva process forward, he urged all nations to meet humanitarian needs in Syria, and he announced a further $340 million in assistance to the country.
Outlining the United States’ policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, he said it was prepared to “use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region”. It would confront external aggression against its allies and partners, as it did in the Gulf War, and ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. It would dismantle terrorist networks that threatened its people and work with its partners to address the root causes of terror. It would “take direct action” to defend the United States against terrorist attacks. Finally, it would not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction, and it rejected the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region and undermine the global non-proliferation regime.
In the near-term, he said, American diplomatic efforts would focus on two key issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While those issues were not the cause of all of the region’s problems, they had been a major source of instability for far too long and resolving them could serve as a foundation for a broader peace. The United States and Iran had been isolated from each other since 1979, and he did not think “this difficult history can be overcome overnight — the suspicion runs too deep”. Although the United States preferred to resolve its concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme peacefully, it was determined to prevent that country from developing a nuclear weapon. The Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Hassan Rouhani has just reiterated that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon. He would direct United States Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue that effort with the Iranian Government.
He reiterated that the United States would never compromise its commitment to Israel’s security nor support for its existence as a Jewish State. Israeli and Palestinian leaders had recently demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks, with current talks focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem. Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic State depended on the establishment and stability of a Palestinian State. All sides must recognize that peace was a powerful tool to defeat extremists. Moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region were languishing without work. “The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace,” he urged.
On the Arab Spring, he said that, when peaceful transition towards democracy had begun in Egypt and Tunisia, the world had been filled with hope. However, over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, the world had witnessed how difficult a transition to democracy and openness truly was. The United States would continue its constructive relationship in Egypt and would reject the notion that democratic principles were simply Western exports incompatible with Islam. Promoting peace was the task of a generation, he said, adding that the sectarian violence in Bahrain, Iraq and Syria must be addressed by the peoples of those nations.
Although the United States had a “hard-earned humility”, the danger for the world was not an America that was too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, but that, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home and aware of the hostility that its engagement in the region had engendered throughout the Muslim world — might disengage, thereby creating a vacuum of leadership no other nation was ready to fill. Different nations would not agree on the need for action in every instance, and while the principle of sovereignty was at the centre of our international order, it “cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye to slaughter”.
“If we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better — all of us — at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order,” he said. Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals; through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules; through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict and not merely its aftermath; and through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized. Sometimes, all that would not be enough and, in such moments, the international community would need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force might be required to prevent the very worst from occurring.
HASSAN ROUHANI, President of Iran, declared that the age of “zero-sum games” in international relations was over. Coercive economic and military policies, practices used to maintain old forms of domination, and the practice of globalizing Western values negated peace, security and human dignity, as did the persistent “cold war mentality”. There was no guarantee that the era of quiet among big Powers would remain immune from violent discourse, practices and action, he said, warning that the impact of violent and extremist narratives must not be underestimated.
He went on to emphasize that “strategic violence” manifested in efforts to deprive regional players of their natural domain of action, describing containment policies, regime change from outside and efforts to redraw political borders as “extremely dangerous and provocative”. Propagandist and unfounded faith-based phobia, including Islamophobia, “Shia-phobia and Iran-phobic discourse”, seriously threatened world peace and security. The so-called Iranian threat, used to justify a long catalogue of crimes in the past three decades, had assumed dangerous proportions, he warned, emphasizing that those who harped on it were themselves a threat to international peace and security. “ Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region.”
Describing the continuing practices imposed on the innocent people of Palestine as nothing less than structural violence, he said there was also no military solution to the crisis in Syria. Expansionist strategies and attempts to change the regional balance through proxies could not hide behind humanitarian rhetoric, he said, adding that the global community must work quickly to end the killing of innocent people. Welcoming Syria’s acceptance of the Chemical Weapons Convention, he said that extremist groups’ access to such weapons, which was the greatest danger to the region, must be considered in any disarmament plan. The illegitimate, ineffective threat, or actual use, of force would only exacerbate violence and crisis in the region. Violence and the use of drones against innocent people in the name of combating terrorism should be condemned, he said, adding that unjust sanctions were inhumane and contrary to peace.
It was vital to promote tolerance and joint action in human society, he said. All challenges could be managed successfully through a smart, judicious blend of hope and moderation. As a regional Power, Iran would act responsibly in regional and global security affairs, and cooperate with other responsible actors. It defended peace based on democracy and the ballot box everywhere, including Syria and Bahrain. Iran sought to resolve problems, not create them, he said, stressing that acceptance of his country’s inalienable right was the best solution to the issue of its nuclear dossier. Underlining the exclusively peaceful nature of his country’s nuclear programme, he said nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction had no place in Iran’s security and defence doctrine.
National interests necessitated the removal of all reasonable concerns about its peaceful nuclear programme. To fulfil that objective, there must be acceptance and respect for Iran’s right to enrichment and other nuclear rights. Nuclear knowledge had been domesticated and Iran’s nuclear technology had reached industrial scale. It was an illusion, and extremely unrealistic, to presume that peaceful use of the nuclear programme could be ensured by impeding it through illegitimate pressures. The country was “prepared to engage in time-bound and results-oriented talks” to build mutual confidence and remove mutual uncertainties with full transparency, he stressed, adding that it sought constructive engagement with other countries, not to increase tensions with the United States.
“Commensurate with the political will of the leadership in the United States,” he continued, “and hoping they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.” Iran expected to hear a consistent voice from Washington. Noting that “peace is within reach”, he proposed, as an initial step, that the United Nations consider creating a World Against Violence and Extremism, or WAVE, and invited all States, global organizations and civil institutions to participate. He also proposed the formation of a “Coalition for Enduring Peace” to replace the ineffective “coalitions for war” spanning the globe.
MAHMOUD ABBAS, President of the State of Palestine, said he was honoured to address the Assembly in its name for the first time, after the Assembly had upgraded Palestine’s status to that of non-member o bserver State. The quest for higher status was not aimed at delegitimizing Israel, affecting the peace process, or substituting for serious negotiations. On the contrary, it had “revived a comatose process”, he said, assuring the Assembly that the State of Palestine would uphold its responsibilities in the international system in a positive and constructive manner that would reinforce peace.
He said that he had begun the latest round of negotiations in good faith and with an open mind, strongly determined to reach a peace accord within nine months. The negotiations had not started from point zero, “nor are we lost in a labyrinth without a map, nor do we lack a compass”. Rather, the foundations of peace were long-standing and within reach. That overarching goal was embodied in redressing the “historic, unprecedented injustice” that had befallen the Palestinian people in 1948. Palestine refused to entertain transitional or interim agreements that could become “eternalized”, and aimed instead for a permanent and comprehensive peace treaty, he said. The international consensus on the terms and parameters of the negotiations were to be found in the decision to upgrade Palestine’s status, and in countless resolutions of the General Assembly, the Security Council and other international organizations.
Noting that 20 years had passed since the Oslo Accords, he recalled the Palestine National Council’s “extremely difficult decision” to accept the proposed two-State solution based on the 1967 borders. Simultaneously, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had committed to peace, repudiating violence and rejecting terrorism. Despite that dynamism and the hopes and expectations that the agreement had generated, the picture today appeared “dispiriting and bleak”, with its goals out of reach, its provisions unimplemented and its deadlines disregarded. Settlement building continued, compromising the two-State solution, he said, emphasizing the need for international vigilance against such actions throughout the resumed negotiations. In that regard, he welcomed the European Union’s position on products originating from the settlements.
Wars, occupation, settlements and walls may provide temporary quiet and momentary domination, but they could not ensure real security, he warned, pointing out that such policies did not create rights or provide legitimacy. What was required was heeding the lessons of history, abandoning force, recognizing the rights of others and dealing on an equal footing to make peace. Palestine was confident that the Israeli people wanted peace and supported a two-State solution, which was why it continued to reach out, trying to build bridges instead of walls, and to sow the seeds of good neighbourliness. Palestinian refugees were paying a particularly high price for conflict and instability, and thousands had abandoned their camps and fled in another exodus.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlement construction continued and Palestinians were forbidden from cultivating or irrigating their own land, he continued. The wall and checkpoints continued to tear their lives apart and to destroy the economy. Settlers had committed 708 terrorist attacks against mosques and churches. Still, Palestinians worked to build institutions and internal unity, working for reconciliation through a return to the ballot box, while opposing occupation and oppression by peaceful means. Assuring the Assembly that he was working for a just peace, he warned that the current round of negotiations seemed like the last chance, and urged the international community to seize it. “The hour of freedom for the Palestinian people has rung,” he declared. “The hour of peace has rung.”
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister of Israel, said there was a “striking, extraordinary” contradiction between the President’s words and Iran’s actions. Though he praised Iran’s democracy, the regime executed political dissidents by the hundreds, jailed them by the thousands and had participated directly in murdering and massacring tens of thousands of men, women and children in Syria. President [Hassan] Rouhani had condemned terrorism, yet in the last three years, Iran had planned, perpetrated or ordered attacks on five continents. It was trying to change the regional balance through proxies, actively destabilizing Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain and other Middle Eastern countries. While promising constructive engagement, Iranian agents had tried to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador in Washington, D.C., and weeks ago, an Iranian agent had been arrested while trying to collect information for possible attacks against the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv.
He said that President Rouhani had called on nations to “join his wave against violence and extremism”, but the only waves Iran had generated in the last 30 years were the waves of violence and terrorism it had unleashed in the region and across the world. “I wish I could believe Rouhani, but I don’t because facts are stubborn things and the facts are that Iran’s savage record flatly contradicts its President’s soothing rhetoric,” he added. He claimed that his country had never chosen deceit and secrecy in its pursuit of a nuclear programme, he continued. However, it had been caught “red-handed”, while secretly building an underground centrifuge facility in 2002, as well as a huge underground nuclear facility near the mountains of Qom in 2009. President Rouhani had told the international community not to worry because those facilities were not intended for nuclear weapons, but it did not make sense that a country with vast natural energy reserves would invest billions to develop nuclear energy, defy multiple Security Council resolutions, incur the crippling cost of sanctions on its economy, develop intercontinental ballistic missiles with the sole purpose of delivering nuclear warheads, and build hidden underground enrichment facilities.
Ballistic missiles were not intended to carry TNT across the globe, but nuclear warheads, he said, warning that Iran’s missiles would be able to reach New York City in three years. In 2012 alone, Iran had enriched three tons of uranium to 3.5 per cent, doubled its stockpiles, added thousands of new centrifuges, including advanced ones, and continued to work on a heavy water reactor in Iraq, so that it could have another route to the bomb. Since President Rouhani’s election, that vast and feverish effort had continued unabated. Iran was positioning itself to race across the “red line” that Israel had drawn, and build nuclear bombs before the international community could detect or prevent it. Yet, it faced the big problem of sanctions, he said, emphasizing that combining tough sanctions with a credible military threat was the only way peacefully to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. That policy was bearing fruit today as the Iranian currency plummeted and its banks became hard pressed to transfer money. History had taught that to prevent war tomorrow, one must be firm today.
To stop the threat diplomatically, he said, Iran must cease all uranium enrichment, remove the stockpiles of enriched uranium from its territory, dismantle the infrastructure for nuclear breakout capability, stop all work on its heavy water reactor and cease production of plutonium. Those steps would end Iran’s nuclear weapons programme and eliminate its breakout capability, he said, adding that the international community must keep up the sanctions and strengthen them if necessary. Israel would never acquiesce to nuclear arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promised to wipe Israel off the map, he emphasized, adding that it would have no choice but to defend itself against such a threat. If forced to stand alone, then it would do so while remaining fully aware that it was defending many, many others. The possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in the region had led many Arab neighbours finally to recognize that Israel was not their enemy, he said.
He said that his country also sought a historic compromise by which a demilitarized Palestinian State and a Jewish State of Israel could live side by side. Like previous Israeli Prime Ministers, he was willing to make painful concessions, but so far, the Palestinian leaders were not prepared to offer their own painful concessions, which must be made for the sake of coexistence. Many Israelis had forebears who had worked to transform a “bludgeoned Jewish people, left for dead” into a vibrant and thriving nation defending itself with “the courage of modern Maccabees”, he said. The people of Israel had come home, never to be uprooted again.
Compiled by by Heather Bowden
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