This year, his senior advisers say, the president will focus more tightly on developments in the Middle East, most notably in Syria, where more than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed in 21
2 years of conflict. Obama will call for broader regional engagement to end the Syrian civil war and build upon President Bashar al-Assad’s recent agreement to give up his chemical weapons program after the threat of a U.S. military strike.
At the same time, the White House appears open to a meeting — or, perhaps, only a handshake — between Obama and Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, who has called for a fresh approach to negotiations over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program. No such meeting has been scheduled, White House officials reiterated Monday.
The more-directed approach marks a shift from Obama’s previous visits to the General Assembly and reflects the potential for diplomatic progress on two of the administration’s most vexing overseas challenges.
Obama will address the General Assembly on Tuesday morning against a backdrop of increasing violence and political insecurity in North Africa and the Middle East, a region recast in recent years by popular rebellions and bumpy transitions.
The Obama administration has appeared passive at times in managing the crises, acknowledging a lack of diplomatic leverage in each case. Assad’s recent decision to turn over his chemical weapons under an agreement partly brokered by the United States marked a more hopeful turn in Obama’s ability to shape events in the region.
This week Obama will press Russia, Iran and other nations that have supported Assad to help force his resignation as part of a broader political solution to end Syria’s civil war. But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s skepticism about the larger U.S. approach in the region is slowing diplomacy on this front.
The United States, Britain and France had hoped to have a tough proposal to enforce the U.S.-Russia deal on Syrian chemical weapons ready for consideration at the United Nations by Monday. But it was delayed by Russia’s opposition to some of the stricter enforcement and verification measures, according to U.S. and other diplomats.
Specifically, the United States, Britain and France — all permanent members of the Security Council — are pressing for enforcement under the strongest mandate available to the United Nations, which could allow for military force. The United States has said that it does not intend to use that power but that it wants the Security Council to provide maximum flexibility.