Obama to UN: US ready to work with Russia and Iran on Syria

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 28, 2015. © Andrew Kelly
President Barack Obama said the US is willing to work with Russia and Iran to solve the current crises in Syria. Speaking at United Nations General Assembly on Monday, he also admitted that leaving a vacuum in Libya was mistake.

In discussing the spread of Islamic State militants throughout Syria and Iraq, as well as the flood of migrants and refugees fleeing conflict there, Obama promised to work with the international community because the US “by itself, cannot impose stability on a foreign land, unless we work with other nations.”

70th session of UN General Assembly: LIVE UPDATES

“And unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary,” the US president added. He refrained from giving an assessment of the results of US military campaigns in the Middle East.

Obama’s speech was peppered with calls for the international community to work together to bring peace and stability to the world.

“No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand: The United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone,” Obama warned his fellow world leaders.

Throughout his speech, Obama looked at strengths and weaknesses of the world community. He looked at how US-led coalitions had handled previous international conflicts like Iraq, Libya and Cuba, including their successes and failures.

When discussing the UN coalition’s actions in Libya, Obama admitted that the international community did not follow through on all its promises.

“Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind,” he said.

In Cuba, he praised the normalization of relations between the island nation and the US.

“For 50 years, the United States pursued a Cuba policy that failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people. We changed that,” Obama said. The audience applauded when he added: “I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore.”

The president seemed to admit that the US had acted too much as a lone wolf in the past, attempting to force its will on sovereign nations to the detriment of the world community.

”I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force when necessary,” Obama said. “But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.... We all have a stake in each other’s success.”

Obama said that the US has weaknesses of its own, pointing to the rising movement on the right that is calling for a wall to protect the country’s borders and playing on fears of otherness, such as increasing racism and anti-Semitism in political dialogue, “a politics of us versus them.”

“We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force, that cooperation and diplomacy will not work,” Obama said, responding to his opponents who see the US as a military, not diplomatic leader.

“To believe in the dignity of every individual, to believe we can bridge our differences, and choose cooperation over conflict ‒ that is not weakness, that is strength,” he added later in his remarks, to applause by the audience.

While Obama focused on the need to work with Russia when it comes to Syria, he also criticized its interference in Ukraine, noting that Russian involvement has pushed Ukrainians further away from Russia and into a united Europe.

“We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated,” Obama said. “If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it can happen to any nation gathered here today.”

READ MORE: Putin: All countries should respect Ukraine’s sovereignty

The US doesn’t want to isolate Russia, Obama said, adding, “We want a strong Russia that’s invested in working with us to strengthen the international system as a whole.”

The president praised Iran for negotiating with the world community over its nuclear program, but warned that the country still poses a danger to stability in the Middle East. He cautioned that Iran would not become a prosperous nation while it still foments war.

“Iran... as of this moment continues to deploy violent proxies to advance its interests,” Obama said. “These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce.”

“Chanting ‘Death to America’ does not create jobs,” the US president added.

Obama praised the more than 50 countries that are joining with him later Monday to add more troops, humanitarian aid and military materiel to UN peacekeeping missions, leading the UNGA to applaud him once more.

“These new capabilities can prevent mass killing and ensure that peace agreements are more than words on paper,” he said. “But we have to do it together.”

Obama called on the world community to assist the flood of refugees from the Middle East, noting that the US is the largest donor of assistance to support the migrants leaving Syria and adding that the United States is increasing the number of refugees it is accepting.

“In the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves,” the president said.

READ MORE: US to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016 - White House

He also heavily criticized Assad for dropping “barrel bombs to massacre innocent children” and “escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife,” referring to the rise of IS from the chaos of the four-year civil war in Syria. Obama called for Syria’s president to be replaced with a new leader and an inclusive government.

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The president also outlined ways the international community can work together to eradicate extreme poverty, roll back preventable diseases, stamp out pandemics, reduce pollution and ease barriers to opportunity. He promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other ways to increase economic growth through trade.

He called for the spread of democracy across the globe, but said he realized that democracy means different things in different parts of the world. Regardless of where, though, women must have a voice in the political process, Obama said. Education of girls plays a vital role in helping countries realize their full potential, he added.

Obama was the second world leader to speak on Monday morning, following Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. It was his seventh address to the 193-member international organization, which is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding in 2015.