Since I took office, I’ve made it clear in letters to the supreme leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully -- although we are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.
Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Meanwhile, the supreme leader has issued a fatwah against the development of nuclear weapons. And President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.
So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.
But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it’s the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place.
And this not -- is not simply an issue between the United States and Iran. The world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.
But I want to be clear. We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course, and given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in close cooperation with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.
The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. That while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and for the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential in commerce and culture, in science and education.
We are also determined the resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran, and that is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
I’ve made it clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state.
Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just and possible. And I believe there’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.
But, the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and where we unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.
Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state.
On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah, whose ambition and incredible potential are matched by the pain they feel and having no firm place in the community of nations.
They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they, too, recognize that two states is the only real path to peace. Because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.
So the time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace. Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks. President Abbas has put aside efforts to shortcut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state. Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.
So now the rest of us must be willing to take risks as well. Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depend on the realization of a Palestinian state. And we should say so clearly. Arab states and those who support the Palestinians must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution and a secure Israel.
All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists throughout the region and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future. And, moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work.
So let’s emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice; let’s support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.
Now, real breakthroughs on these two issues -- Iran’s nuclear program and Israeli-Palestinian peace -- would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa.
But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only agreements between nations; it must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations. And by that measure, it’s clear that all of us have a lot more work to do.
When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope. And although the United States, like others, was struck by the speed of transition, and although we did not, and, in fact, could not dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change.
And we did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous and more peaceful.
Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be. Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive. The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong term. But it, too, has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press and civil society, and opposition (inaudible).
Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and engineering the removal of power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides. Our overriding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society. That remains our interest today.
And so going forward the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords in (ph) counterterrorism, will continue support in areas like education that directly benefit the Egyptian people, but we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems. And our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a more democratic path.
And our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet, at least in our view, the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests.
Nevertheless, we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We will reject the notion that these principles are simply western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab world. We believe they are the birthright of every person.
And while we recognize that our influence will, at times, be limited, although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and although we will, at times, be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency, we will be engaged in the region for the long haul, for the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation. And this includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Syria.
We understand such long-standing issues cannot be solved by outsiders. They must be addressed by Muslim communities themselves. But we’ve seen grinding conflicts come to an end before, most recently in northern Ireland where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world. And so, we believe those same sectarian conflicts can be overcome in the Middle East and North Africa.
To summarize, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. Now, the notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion. Indeed, as recent debates within the United States over Syria clearly show.
The danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is, that the United States after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues aback home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.
I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security, but I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree. But I believe America is exceptional. In part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self interest, but for the interest of all.
I must be honest though, we’re far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us, that invest in their people instead of a corrupt few, that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute -- men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew -- because from Europe to Asia, from Africa to the Americas, nations that have persevered on a democratic path, have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity.
I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab world.
This leads me to a final point. There will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, the violence against civilians so substantial, that the international community will be called upon to act. This will require new thinking and some very tough choices. While the United Nations was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states.
And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing, places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk with no hope of protection from their national institutions. I’ve made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect basic human rights. But we cannot and should not bear that burden alone.
In Mali, we supported both the French intervention, but successfully pushed back Al Qaida, and the African forces who are keeping the peace. In eastern Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end. And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action. Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.
I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson, that point to the problem that the country now confronts, a democratically elected government struggling to provide security, armed groups in some places, extremists ruling parts of the fractured land. And so these critics argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail. Look at Libya.
And no one’s more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi.
But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better, if Gadhafi had been allowed to kill, imprison or brutalize his people into submission?
It’s far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.
We live in a world of imperfect choices. Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance. And the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order.
But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit one murder. Or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye.
While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, while we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda, or Srebrenica?
If that’s the world that people want to live in, they should say so, and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.
But I believe we can embrace a different future. And if we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better, all of us, with (ph) the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order; through (ph) respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals; through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules; through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, not merely its aftermath; through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized.
And, yes, sometimes although this will not be enough, there are gonna be moments where the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occurring.
Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks: one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution and where we all take responsibility. A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully and prevent the kind of wars that our forefathers fought. A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs whether they live in New York or Nairobi, in Peshawar or Damascus.
These are extraordinary times with extraordinary opportunities. Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth today can do things can 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity. I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off, and America is with them, partnering to feed the hungry and care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.
I see it across the Pacific region, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation. I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with a click of a button and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty and combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past.
That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa. It’s happening in Europe and across the Americas. That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve as well, one where they can focus on opportunity instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.
And time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change, to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history.
Last month, I stood where 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for president. Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people in the world.
Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome when we’ve seen what changes the human spirit can bring? Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit rather than those who seek to liberate it?
I know what side of history I want the United States of America to be on. We’re ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you, firm in the belief that all men and women are, in fact, created equally, each individual possessed with a dignity and inalienable rights that cannot be denied. That’s why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope, and that’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous and just world to the next generation.
Thank you, very much.