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At United Nations, Obama Makes Appeal for World's Cooperation

President Barack Obama is pleading for "a new era of engagement" on world problems, telling the United Nations the United States shouldn't pursue a go-it-alone stance. It is his first speech to world leaders at the U.N. Video by AP

Gaddafi railed for more than 90 minutes on the "dictatorial" powers of the United States and the Security Council, saying the council's permanent members have established a "feudal" order in which poor countries have been terrorized through economic sanctions and military force. "It should not be called the Security Council," he said. "It should be called the Terror Council."

Regarding the Middle East, Obama said that Palestinians have "legitimate claims and rights" and that the United States' "unwavering commitment" to Israel's security must be coupled with an insistence that Israel recognize them. But he also said the world must urge Palestinians to "recognize Israel's legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security." Both statements were greeted with applause.

On climate change, Obama again declared that a new era has dawned in which the United States will no longer be an obstacle to action. "The days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over," he said, a clear reference to the Bush administration. But he repeated his demand for responsibility on the part of developing countries, which he said could do more to reduce their air pollution without inhibiting their economic growth.

Part of Obama's success on these fronts will be determined as much by the steadiness of his leadership and the respect he is able to command as by his appeals for cooperation. Obama has set clear goals in foreign policy, and in his speech Wednesday, he outlined concrete steps in some of the areas of priority. But as he spoke, his administration was engaged in an important internal debate on Afghanistan -- one that became all the more public Monday with the publication in The Washington Post of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's report warning that the mission there will fail unless more troops are deployed.

It was only a few months ago that the president announced a new strategy for Afghanistan; McChrystal was installed to implement that effort. Now, in the wake of reports that the general wants more troops, administration officials suggest that another strategy may be needed. They cite a new set of conditions, including the messy aftermath of the recent election in Afghanistan, as a cause for reassessment. The election certified rather than exposed what administration officials have long known -- that President Hamid Karzai is an unreliable partner in the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

When he was running for president, Obama found the war in Afghanistan a convenient policy foil for his opposition to the Iraq conflict, though one to which he seemed genuinely committed. Opposed to the war in Iraq, he was able to demonstrate muscularity on foreign policy by arguing that Iraq was consuming resources better focused on Afghanistan.

Now, some Obama advisers hear echoes of Vietnam in the military's call for more troops and more time before the mission in Afghanistan can be expected to succeed. Meanwhile, outside pressure has built for Obama to listen to the generals and not to waver in his commitment of the forces they say are needed to defeat al-Qaeda. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom Obama defeated for the presidency, is among those ratcheting up the pressure. He is speaking as forcefully now in favor of an escalation as he was when he called for more troops in Iraq, long before Bush initiated the "surge" policy that helped quell the violence there.

At the United Nations on Wednesday, Obama sought to rally the world to act on challenges as diverse as the economy, nuclear proliferation and the environment. But Afghanistan is an example of how the United States must set its own course before other countries will follow. The rest of the world will be watching to see how the president responds.

Balz reported from Washington. Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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