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U.N. Summit to Shift Focus to Conflict in Sudan

September 23, 2010 at 4:55 PM EST
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Margaret Warner, reporting from New York, speaks with Ray Suarez about President Obama encouraging the international community to support Middle East peace talks and the special summit being convened to discuss Sudan's looming referendum on whether the South will secede.
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RAY SUAREZ: Margaret Warner is in New York. And she joins me now. Margaret, were you struck by how much of the president’s address had to do with the Mideast?

MARGARET WARNER: I was, Ray. It was nearly a third of the speech, if you count the minutes.

The White House just decided that this was the one issue on which they really need, right now, help from the international community. Last year, it was Iran, nuclear nonproliferation. Of all the list of issues Obama — Obama told the U.N. last year he wanted to address that very little progress has been made on, it’s the Middle East.

Now, as you know, the parties are in the talks, but it’s very fragile. You have this looming deadline of the moratorium expiring on Sunday. And, so, his message to this body was essentially: We come back here year after year and talk about the Middle East, and, oh, isn’t it terrible what’s going on there? Well, many of you call yourselves friends of the Palestinians, and now is the time to show it.

And he is, of course, speaking to the Arab states. And what he’s saying to them is, you have to help create the political space and support for Mahmoud Abbas, so that, for example, if Netanyahu lets the moratorium expire, Abbas can still stay in the talks, and, more broadly, to continue to give Abbas sort of moral support, political support, and more financial support.

He’s also saying to them: Stop tearing down Israel in public forums. In fact, you ought to be sending Israel positive signals about what a deal could mean for them in terms of relations with the Arab world.

So, it — really, the message was, it’s put up or shut up. And they just decided that this was the forum. It’s not a new message, but they decided this was the forum and the moment to do it.

RAY SUAREZ: The American president sounded like he was still looking for a compromise over Iran’s nuclear enrichment, but it didn’t sound like the Iranian president was very interested.

MARGARET WARNER: No, Ray. You know, there are — there were big headlines today about — that the U.S. and this P5-plus-one group was exploring the prospect of renewed talks with Iran. There have been some positive signals, because Ahmadinejad has been flashing around town talking about renewing talks, but there have also been some negative signals.

The fact is that they’re continuing to enrich, as we know, and they’re obstructing inspectors. So, on the one hand, they had this meeting yesterday, this P5-plus-one, the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, and they did talk about a strategy for negotiations, if they should start again.

On the other hand, they can’t seem to get through to the main negotiator. And they don’t know whether Ahmadinejad, one, is serious, and, two, even has the authority to revive the talks.

The White House then reacted to what Ahmadinejad had to say today by saying, you know, these words — these latest words reflect why the burden is on them, why we have so little confidence in Tehran, and why the burden is on them to demonstrate their true intentions.

And, by that, the White House means — or the — the Obama administration means, it’s not just enough for Ahmadinejad to talk about wanting to return to talks. He has — the regime there has to make an effort and actually return to the structure that has been set up.

And, as I said, they have no idea, given the turmoil that’s going on in Tehran, whether’s that’s at all in the cards.

RAY SUAREZ: The United States has a lot of pending issues with China. Two leaders met today. Any inkling of progress?

MARGARET WARNER: Ray, the interesting thing, we just had a briefing on the China meeting, and the — with the premier, When, and that, of the two hours, 90 minutes was taken up by the currency dispute, the dispute over the valuation of China’s currency.

President Obama, we’re told, went into the meeting and said: This is the number-one issue for me in this meeting. He went on to say: We were very heartened by — in June, when — when you said you were going to have a more flexible currency policy, but we have been disappointed since then. And we expect to see an accelerated pace of revaluation of the yuan.

And, apparently, they discussed it in both its economics and political aspects. By that, the context of this is, you have got now a groundswell on Capitol Hill for a tough currency bill, which I think is going to come before House Ways and Means tomorrow. So, the briefer who told us about the meeting described the talks as candid. And, as we know, that’s diplospeak for very, very blunt talk.

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret, what’s coming up tomorrow?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, for the president, Ray, the most — the diciest issue tomorrow concerns Sudan. There’s a special summit that’s being convened to talk about this looming referendum in January on South — in South Sudan about whether it’s going to vote for independence from Sudan.

Washington is very worried that President Bashir of Sudan is going to frustrate this vote in some way, and you could see an outbreak of civil war. And, so, what they want to do at this meeting tomorrow is, on the one hand, put the spotlight, tell the Sudanese the world’s watching, and, on the other hand, make clear to the Sudanese that, if they were to go ahead and fulfill their obligations to have this referendum proceed in a peaceful and competent way, that there could be some benefits in the way of better ties with Washington.

RAY SUAREZ: Margaret Warner at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Ray.