By Sam Youngman - 09/23/10 10:00 AM EDT
President Obama made Middle East peace the focus of his address to the United Nations on Thursday, asking for international and regional help in securing a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
The president also offered a strong defense of Israel, making clear U.S. support for its ally, and again called on Iran's leadership to be more open in proving that its nuclear intentions are peaceful.
Obama, addressing the assembly in New York City for the second time as president, said that "after 60 years in the community of nations, Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate."
"Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people," Obama said. "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."
While Obama devoted much of his speech to the global economy and a press for human rights, the focus of the president's remarks was that while "peace must be made by Israelis and Palestinians … each of us has a responsibility to do our part as well."
"Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine — one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity," Obama says. "And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means — including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel."
As the president has successfully helped restart direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, he has repeatedly called for Arab countries in the region to demonstrate their support for peace.
Late last month, Obama kicked off the direct peace talks in Washington by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the White House for talks and a working dinner.
In his speech to the UN, Obama said that while many representative nations have said they support peace, "these pledges must now be supported by deeds."
"Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by describing and demonstrating the normalization that it promises Israel," Obama said. "Those who speak out for Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority with political and financial support, and — in so doing — help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state. And those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down."
The president also threw down the gauntlet to the nations gathered, challenging them to move forward with action instead of symbolic measures.
"The conflict between Israelis and Arabs is as old as this institution," Obama said. "And we can come back here, next year, as we have for the last 60, and make long speeches about it. We can read familiar lists of grievances. We can table the same resolutions. We can further empower the forces of rejectionism and hate."
Or, Obama said, "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."
On Iran, the president said that "the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it."
"But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program," Obama said.
The president said that toughened UN sanctions on Iran "made it clear that international law is not an empty promise."
"I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community," Obama said. "I also said — in this hall — that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities. That is what we have done. Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences."
This report was updated at 10:47 a.m.