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Of course, our challenges don’t end with al Qaeda.  America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons.  The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations.  Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats. 

Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.  At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands – because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks.  We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail.  We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets.  Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems.  We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy. 

That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy.  Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks. 

Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities.  To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership.  And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all.  In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day.  So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.  

Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change.  I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, “There is justice and law in the United States.  I want our country to be like that.”

In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia.  In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy.  The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people.  We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian.  And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.  These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.

All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.  As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world.  We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending.  We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight.  We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat.  We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.  And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they serve us.

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone.  We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home.  That includes our most fundamental right as citizens:  the right to vote.  When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals.  That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.  And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it.  We can fix this, and we will.  The American people demand it.  And so does our democracy.

Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children. 

It has been two months since Newtown.  I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence.  But this time is different.  Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun.  Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals.  Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned. 

Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress.  If you want to vote no, that’s your choice.  But these proposals deserve a vote.  Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton.  She was 15 years old.  She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss.  She was a majorette.  She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend.  Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration.  And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence.  They deserve a vote.

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