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At U.N., Obama Presses Israel to Extend Settlement Moratorium

September 23, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama joined other world leaders today at the U.N. General Assembly and continued his push for Middle East peace.

Ray Suarez has the story.

(APPLAUSE)

RAY SUAREZ: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the focus of the president’s remarks before the United Nations General Assembly today. Mr. Obama urged the leaders of 192 member states to support the peace process, just weeks after his administration brought the Israelis and Palestinians together for direct negotiations.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to coexistence. The hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed.

RAY SUAREZ: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas listened to President Obama’s remarks, but Israel’s seats sat empty in observance of a Jewish holiday.

Days from now, the slowdown on new construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is set to expire. The Israeli government says it has no intention of extending the temporary freeze. And the Palestinians have threatened to leave the peace talks as a result.

Today, President Obama said extending the moratorium was essential.

BARACK OBAMA: Now is the time for the parties to help each other overcome this obstacle. Now is the time to build the trust — and provide the time — for substantial progress to be made.

RAY SUAREZ: The president also pressed the Arab states to step forward, if they want peace.

BARACK OBAMA: I know many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges of friendship must now be supported by deeds. Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps towards the normalization that it promises Israel.

RAY SUAREZ: On Iran, the president renewed an offer to negotiate with the clerical regime on its nuclear program. The U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions on Iran in June.

BARACK OBAMA: The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.

RAY SUAREZ: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded this afternoon, and began by suggesting a U.S. role in the 9/11 attacks.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, Iranian President (through translator): That some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order to save the Zionist regime. The majority of the American people, as well as most nations and politicians around the world, agree with this view.

RAY SUAREZ: The American delegation immediately walked out in protest, joined by several European delegations. Ahmadinejad then went on to defend Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Iran has already been ready for a dialogue based on respect and justice. Secondly, those who have used intimidation and sanctions in response to the clear logic of the Iranian nation are, in real terms, destroying the remaining credibility of the Security Council.

RAY SUAREZ: The leaders of Iran and the U.S. did not meet face to face, but President Obama did sit down with China’s Premier Wen Jiabao. Their talks were described as candid, a diplomatic word meaning they voiced differences. The president said cooperation between the two countries was absolutely critical in easing global financial problems.

Mr. Obama’s three-day trip to New York will also include private meetings with a number of other world leaders. He greeted others at a luncheon this afternoon.