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“The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution. And we can come back here, next year, as we have for the last 60, and make long speeches about it,” Mr. Obama said. “We can waste more time by carrying forward an argument that will not help a single Israeli or Palestinian child achieve a better life. Or, we can say that this time will be different - that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way.”

To reach an agreement, however, Mr. Obama stressed that Israel’s sovereignty must not be questioned.

“It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States,” he said. “And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people. The slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance, it is injustice.”

Elsewhere, the president made the case for democracy around the world, saying while different countries will adopt unique forms of government, democracy remains the best way to secure human rights. He noted the global financial recession has led to anxiety, but decried crackdowns on civil society in the name of stemming the downturn.

“Some put human rights aside for the promise of short-term stability or the false notion that economic growth can come at the expense of freedom,” Mr. Obama said. “Yet experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty; that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies and open governments. To put it simply, democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens. And I believe that truth will only grow stronger in a world where the borders between nations are blurred.”

Outside the U.N. plaza Thursday, scores of demonstrators protested the Iranian regime and its widely suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, also highlighting the nation’s suppression of the opposition “Green” movement with pictures of beaten and dead activists.

Meanwhile, Sarah Shourd, a hiker who was imprisoned by Iranian authorities after entering the country while hiking near the Iran-Iraq border, told her story on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” while Mr. Ahmadinejad was speaking. Two American hikers remain captive in Iran.