In first U.N. address, Obama calls for new era of cooperation

In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for a “new era of engagement."

Obama highlighted what the U.S. has done to improve its international standing, while calling on other countries to do their part, and he laid out four key global initiatives as part of his administration's foreign policy.

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“No longer do we have the luxury of indulging our differences to the exclusion of the work that we must do together,” Obama told the assembly of world leaders in New York City. “We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect, and our work must begin now.”

Obama noted changes in U.S. policy since he took office on issues of torture, Guantánamo Bay, Iraq, nuclear weapons, climate change and Middle East peace, arguing that Americans have made concrete steps toward re-engaging the international community.

He emphasized that while those changes are “just a beginning,” the U.S. would expect other countries to pull their weight in pursuing global issues.

“That is the future America wants — a future of peace and prosperity that we can only reach if we recognize that all nations have rights, but all nations have responsibilities as well,” Obama said. “That is the bargain that makes this work. That must be the guiding principle of international cooperation.”

The president laid out four pillars of his international policy that would promote security and economic initiatives.

Obama first called for a halt on nuclear proliferation, saying that the U.S. would pursue agreements with Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles and would host a summit next year on securing loose nuclear weapons.

The president said his second pillar, the pursuit of peace, would be built on effective peacekeeping within existing conflicts zones, combined with efforts to prevent new conflicts.

Part of that pillar would be a push for new negotiations, without preconditions, between Israelis and Palestinians, said Obama, who held a meeting with Middle East leaders on Tuesday.

“The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people,” said Obama. He added that the U.S. would encourage negotiations between Israel and Lebanon and Syria as part of that goal.

The president also called on nations to confront global warming as part of the third pillar of his foreign initiatives, pledging that the U.S. would no longer “drag its feet” on confronting climate change.

“We will move forward with investments to transform our energy economy, while providing incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy,” he said. “And we will seize every opportunity for progress to address this threat in a cooperative effort with the whole world.”

While Obama called on major industrialized nations to push forward hardest with new climate change rules, he alluded to growing economies like China and India, telling the assembly that “any effort to curb carbon emissions must include the fast-growing carbon emitters who can do more to reduce their air pollution.”

Lastly, Obama called for new financial rules to help repair the global economy, an issue he will push later this week at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.

The president said that wealthy nations should open up trade to poorer nations and reform international institutions to give those countries a greater voice in decisionmaking. But those developing nations would also have to crack down on political and economic corruption as part of the process of increasing their economic engagement.

The president noted that democracy “cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside,” a break from the Bush-era promotion of international democracy as a key international pursuit. Obama said the U.S. would let each country pursue its own path to democracy, noting that the American government at times has been inconsistent in promoting democratic governments around the world.

Obama described a “pivotal moment” in history where the U.S. would “begin a new chapter of international cooperation – one that recognizes the rights and responsibilities of all nations.”

“With confidence in our cause, and with a commitment to our values, we call on all nations to join us in building the future that our people deserve,” he said.