- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NEW YORK | Iran’s march toward a nuclear weapon and its recent political unrest dominated President Obama’s first speech to the United Nations Wednesday, which included a challenge to members of the international body to avoid creeping irrelevance by working together.

Mr. Obama received a warm and enthusiastic welcome when he entered the hall and then loud and sustained applause after his 37-minute speech, in which he mixed the acknowledgment of a changing world with bold calls for an end to “reflexive anti-Americanism.”

But his warning that the U.N. “struggles to enforce its will” and must come together to change comes at a time when U.S. ability to influence other nations is being questioned.

The president attempted to build greater legitimacy behind the move to prevent Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. Tehran is growing close to being able to build a bomb, though weaponization is still a ways off, according to a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran and North Korea “must be held accountable” if they continue to pursue weapons, Mr. Obama said. He attempted to corner Tehran and Pyongyang by appealing to the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which says countries with nuclear weapons must “move toward disarmament” and “those without them have the responsibility to forsake them.”

“America will keep our end of the bargain,” Mr. Obama said, touting his administration’s ongoing negotiations with Russia to reduce their respective nuclear arsenals.

“Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations must face consequences,” he said. “This is not about singling out individual nations it is about standing up for the rights of all nations that do live up to their responsibilities.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the speech, and was scheduled to give his own address to the General Assembly later in the day. He and his delegation did not applaud during or after the speech.

Mr. Obama spoke repeatedly of his support for “the right of people everywhere to determine their own destiny.” His administration has been faulted for not speaking out more forcefully against the Iranian government’s forceful repression of protests following disputed national elections in June.

The president said that “democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside,” but added that the U.S. “will always stand with those who stand up for their dignity and their rights for the student who seeks to learn, the voter who demands to be heard, the innocent who longs to be free and the oppressed who yearns to be equal.”

He added that “the people of the world want change” and “will not long tolerate those who are on the wrong side of history.”

In his maiden U.N. speech, Mr. Obama, whose administration has made a point of paying more respect to the organization than the George W. Bush administration did, did not shy away from pointing out its shortcomings.

“This body has often become a forum for sowing discord instead of forging common ground, a venue for playing politics and exploiting grievances rather than solving problems,” he said.

He said that though the U.N. “struggles to enforce its will,” that is only reason to “redouble our efforts” to strengthen it. The Obama administration believes that the world’s problems are too interrelated to solve them unilaterally, and Mr. Obama called for “a new era of engagement” in this direction.

Yet moments after he finished speaking, Mr. Obama was followed at the podium by Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi, who delivered a rambling, nearly two-hour address in which, among other points, he said capitalist countries have made the swine flu to enrich drug companies and argued that the United Nations should be moved out of the United States because too many people listening to his speech were asleep due to jet lag.

Mr. Obama in his speech also restated a hard line against expansion of Jewish settlements in contested territory, one day after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering.

“America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” Mr. Obama said, also calling on the Palestinians to “end incitement against Israel.”

However, Mr. Obama told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday that an Israeli offer to freeze the building of new settlements for six to nine months, allowing continued expansion of existing settlements, was “enough to get going” on re-starting peace talks.

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