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Obama Calls For 'New Era' Of U.S. Foreign Policy


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.



And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

President Obama spoke at the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this morning. He said the world has come to perceive America as a unilateral actor in foreign policy and he called for a new era of engagement to solve the world's problems.

NPR's Don Gonyea joins us now to talk about it. Good morning, Don.

DON GONYEA: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: President Obama said that he was well aware of the expectations that accompany his presidency around the world. Let's listen to what he said.


President BARACK OBAMA: These expectations are not about me. Rather, they are rooted, I believe, in a discontent with a status quo that has allowed us to be increasingly defined by our differences and outpaced by our problems. But they are also rooted in hope.

WERTHEIMER: The hope, he went on to say, that American would be a leader in bringing about change. Don, the president is talking about a slightly different take on leadership in this United Nations speech, isn't he?

GONYEA: He is. And it's interesting to compare this to the speeches former President George Bush gave to this same body in years past. Whereas both of these U.S. presidents are saying - said - we're all in this together, the approach from Mr. Bush was more: so follow us. And with President Obama today, he was saying America is doing its part, is committed to doing its part, but that every nation in the world has a responsibility to step up and do the hard work.

And that's not just in addressing conflicts around the world. It's on the global economy. It's on health issues. It's on climate change. It's on all sorts of things. So he was talking about a real working partnership. He also acknowledged that this body has so often kind of evolved into a place where the divisions all come to the floor. But he said this is the time in history where they need to really work together.

WERTHEIMER: He also restated his commitment to peace in the Middle East, although he did not have anything new to bring to the U.N. as a result of meetings that he's had with leaders of Israel and the Palestinians. But here is a part of what the president said.

Pres. OBAMA: But all of us, not just the Israelis and Palestinians, but all of us must decide whether we are serious about peace or whether we will only lend it lip-service. To break the old patterns, to break the cycle of insecurity and despair, all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private.

WERTHEIMER: What does that mean, Don? What is he talking about?

GONYEA: Well, too often, too often there are these behind-closed-doors discussions where progress can really be killed because people don't bring to the table what they are talking about back home.

Basically he said, listen, Israel needs security, the U.S. stands for that, but that the U.S. cannot accept the continuation of the settlements. He said Palestinians need a home. They need their own continuous - contiguous nation, he says. But they need to stop the violence and the vitriol that questions the legitimacy of Israel.

He just said it is time for them to move forward and really get talks going again. But he did have a meeting with the Palestinian leader yesterday, with the Israeli prime minister, and we do not have any schedule for those talks.

WERTHEIMER: Don Gonyea at the United Nations. Thanks very much, Don.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.