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  • President Obama: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General,

  • fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen:

  • Each year we come together to reaffirm

  • the founding vision of this institution.

  • For most of recorded history, individual aspirations

  • were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires.

  • Divisions of race and religion and tribe were settled

  • through the sword and the clash of armies.

  • The idea that nations and peoples could come together

  • in peace to solve their disputes

  • and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.

  • It took the awful carnage of two world wars

  • to shift our thinking.

  • The leaders who built the United Nations were not naïve;

  • they did not think this body could eradicate all wars.

  • But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble,

  • and with the development of nuclear weapons

  • that could annihilate a planet,

  • they understood that humanity

  • could not survive the course it was on.

  • And so they gave us this institution,

  • believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts,

  • enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation

  • that would grow stronger over time.

  • For decades, the United Nations has in fact made a difference --

  • from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children,

  • to brokering peace.

  • But like every generation of leaders,

  • we face new and profound challenges,

  • and this body continues to be tested.

  • The question is whether we possess

  • the wisdom and the courage,

  • as nation-states and members of an international community,

  • to squarely meet those challenges;

  • whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.

  • For much of my tenure as President,

  • some of our most urgent challenges have revolved

  • around an increasingly integrated global economy,

  • and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis

  • of our lifetime.

  • Now, five years after the global economy collapsed,

  • and thanks to coordinated efforts

  • by the countries here today,

  • jobs are being created,

  • global financial systems have stabilized,

  • and people are once again being lifted out of poverty.

  • But this progress is fragile and unequal,

  • and we still have work to do together to assure

  • that our citizens can access the opportunities

  • that they need to thrive in the 21st century.

  • Together, we've also worked to end a decade of war.

  • Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans

  • were serving in harm's way,

  • and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue

  • in our relationship with the rest of the world.

  • Today, all of our troops have left Iraq.

  • Next year, an international coalition

  • will end its war in Afghanistan,

  • having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda

  • that attacked us on 9/11.

  • For the United States, these new circumstances have

  • also meant shifting away from a perpetual war footing.

  • Beyond bringing our troops home,

  • we have limited the use of drones

  • so they target only those who pose

  • a continuing, imminent threat to the United States

  • where capture is not feasible,

  • and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.

  • We're transferring detainees to other countries

  • and trying terrorists in courts of law,

  • while working diligently to close the prison

  • at Guantanamo Bay.

  • And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary

  • military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals,

  • we've begun to review the way that we gather intelligence,

  • so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns

  • of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns

  • that all people share.

  • As a result of this work,

  • and cooperation with allies and partners,

  • the world is more stable than it was five years ago.

  • But even a glance at today's headlines

  • indicates that dangers remain.

  • In Kenya, we've seen terrorists target innocent civilians

  • in a crowded shopping mall,

  • and our hearts go out to the families

  • of those who have been affected.

  • In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed

  • by suicide bombers outside a church.

  • In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be

  • a terrible part of life.

  • And meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional

  • networks and militias, which doesn't give them

  • the capacity at this point to carry out attacks like 9/11,

  • but does pose serious threats to governments and diplomats,

  • businesses and civilians all across the globe.

  • Just as significantly,

  • the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa

  • have laid bare deep divisions within societies,

  • as an old order is upended and people grapple

  • with what comes next.

  • Peaceful movements have too often

  • been answered by violence --

  • from those resisting change and from extremists

  • trying to hijack change.

  • Sectarian conflict has reemerged.

  • And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction

  • continues to cast a shadow over the pursuit of peace.

  • Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully

  • than in Syria.

  • There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime

  • were met with repression and slaughter.

  • In the face of such carnage,

  • many retreated to their sectarian identity --

  • Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd --

  • and the situation spiraled into civil war.

  • The international community recognized the stakes early on,

  • but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge.

  • Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering

  • of the wounded and displaced.

  • A peace process is stillborn.

  • America and others have worked

  • to bolster the moderate opposition,

  • but extremist groups have still taken root

  • to exploit the crisis.

  • Assad's traditional allies have propped him up,

  • citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime.

  • And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons

  • in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people,

  • including hundreds of children.

  • Now, the crisis in Syria,

  • and the destabilization of the region,

  • goes to the heart of broader challenges

  • that the international community must now confront.

  • How should we respond to conflicts

  • in the Middle East and North Africa --

  • conflicts between countries,

  • but also conflicts within them?

  • How do we address the choice of standing callously by

  • while children are subjected to nerve gas,

  • or embroiling ourselves in someone else's civil war?

  • What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten

  • the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards

  • of civilized conduct?

  • What is the role of the United Nations and international law

  • in meeting cries for justice?

  • Today, I want to outline where the United States of America

  • stands on these issues.

  • With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting

  • point, the international community must enforce

  • the ban on chemical weapons.

  • When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against

  • the Assad regime in response to the brazen use

  • of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly.

  • I did so because I believe it is in the security interest

  • of the United States and in the interest of the world

  • to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins

  • are older than the United Nations itself.

  • The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war,

  • has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity.

  • It is strengthened by the searing memories

  • of soldiers suffocating in the trenches;

  • Jews slaughtered in gas chambers;

  • Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

  • The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime

  • used such weapons on August 21st.

  • U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets

  • fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians.

  • These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood,

  • and landed in opposition neighborhoods.

  • It's an insult to human reason --

  • and to the legitimacy of this institution --

  • to suggest that anyone other than the regime

  • carried out this attack.

  • Now, I know that in the immediate aftermath of the

  • attack there were those who questioned the legitimacy

  • of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate

  • from the Security Council.

  • But without a credible military threat,

  • the Security Council had demonstrated

  • no inclination to act at all.

  • However, as I've discussed with President Putin for over a year,

  • most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been

  • a diplomatic resolution to this issue.

  • And in the past several weeks,

  • the United States, Russia and our allies

  • have reached an agreement to place Syria's chemical weapons

  • under international control, and then to destroy them.

  • The Syrian government took a first step

  • by giving an accounting of its stockpiles.

  • Now there must be a strong Security Council resolution

  • to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments,

  • and there must be consequences if they fail to do so.

  • If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show

  • that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing

  • the most basic of international laws.

  • On the other hand, if we succeed,

  • it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons

  • has no place in the 21st century,

  • and that this body means what it says.

  • Agreement on chemical weapons should energize

  • a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement

  • within Syria.

  • I do not believe that military action --

  • by those within Syria, or by external powers --

  • can achieve a lasting peace.

  • Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine

  • who will lead Syria;

  • that is for the Syrian people to decide.

  • Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens

  • and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy

  • to lead a badly fractured country.

  • The notion that Syria can somehow return

  • to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy.

  • It's time for Russia and Iran to realize

  • that insisting on Assad's rule will lead directly

  • to the outcome that they fear:

  • an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate.

  • In turn, those of us who continue to support

  • the moderate opposition must persuade them

  • that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse

  • of state institutions,

  • and that a political settlement

  • cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears

  • and concerns of Alawites and other minorities.

  • We are committed to working this political track.

  • And as we pursue a settlement,

  • let's remember this is not a zero-sum endeavor.

  • We're no longer in a Cold War.

  • There's no Great Game to be won,

  • nor does America have any interest in Syria

  • beyond the wellbeing of its people,

  • the stability of its neighbors,

  • the elimination of chemical weapons,

  • and ensuring that it does not become

  • a safe haven for terrorists.

  • I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring

  • about a peaceful resolution of Syria's civil war.

  • And as we move the Geneva process forward,

  • I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs

  • in Syria and surrounding countries.

  • America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort,

  • and today I can announce that we will be providing

  • an additional $340 million.

  • No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives

  • the Syrian people the chance to rebuild their country,

  • but it can help desperate people to survive.

  • What broader conclusions can be drawn

  • from America's policy toward Syria?

  • I know there are those who have been frustrated

  • by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad,