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Obama and Putin duel over Islamic State, Ukraine in UN speeches

U.S. and Russian tensions were in the spotlight at the United Nations General Assembly, where both President Obama and President Putin addressed the fight against the Islamic State. While Obama rejected support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Putin maintained that working with the Syrian government is the only way to defeat IS. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How to end the war in Syria, that was the key question today at the United Nations. It's a conflict that's left thousands dead, displacing millions more, with ripple effects across the Middle East and Europe.

    Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, is there, and she has this report.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    One hundred and sixty world leaders filled the General Assembly hall this morning to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the organization dedicated to preserving peace in the world.

    But the speeches of President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin only highlighted the ongoing tensions between two of its founding members.

    Mr. Obama spoke first, with an ominous warning.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    We come together today knowing that the march of human progress never travels in a straight line, that our work is far from complete, that dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    It was an indirect reference, both to the rise of the Islamic State and to what the U.S. sees as adventuresome by Russia, Syria and Iran.

    He rejected the Russian argument that supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the price for fighting ISIS.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Later, Putin, who appeared at the U.N. event for the first time in a decade, flatly disagreed. He said there's only one way to end the brutal conflict in Syria and defeat ISIS.

  • PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter):

    We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face. We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad's armed forces and Kurd militia are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Putin is already engaged in a major military buildup in Syria, and he's now struck an intelligence-sharing deal with Syria, Iran and Iraq, which came as a surprise to the White House. He called today for a broad global coalition against terror, and he rejected criticism of Russia's new activism on the world stage.

  • PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (through interpreter):

    I must note that such an honest and direct approach of Russia has been recently used as a pretext to accuse it of growing ambitions, as if those who say it had no ambitions at all. However, it is not the matter of Russia's ambitions, but the recognition of the fact that we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani likewise defended his country's actions in Iraq and Syria, where Tehran is actively aiding Assad, and he blamed American policy for forcing Iran to act.

  • PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI, Iran (through interpreter):

    We must not forget that the roots of today's destruction can be found in the occupation, invasion and military intervention of yesterday. If we didn't have the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the terrorists wouldn't have an excuse for the justification of their crimes.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The flash point in Ukraine also figured large in the dueling speeches. President Obama condemned Russia for flagrantly violating Ukraine's sovereignty.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That is the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia. It is not a desire to return to a cold war.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But Putin shot back that the root of the problem is American arrogance.

  • PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (through interpreter):

    We all know that, after the end of the Cold War, a single center of domination emerged in the world. And then those who found themselves at the top of that pyramid were tempted to think that, if we are so strong and exceptional, then we know better than anyone what to do.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Obama and Putin's speeches were a public preview of a private meeting later, their first direct sit-down in nearly a year.

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