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Obama calls for new era of global engagement

In his first address to the United Nations, the US president, Barack Obama, said the United States is ready to begin a new era of engagement with the world. He put forward 'four pillars' that he believes are fundamental for a better future: 'non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security; the preservation of our planet; and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people.'

In his first address to the United Nations, the US president, Barack Obama put forward "four pillars" that he believes are fundamental for a better future: "non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security; the preservation of our planet; and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people." "The United States is ready to begin a new era of engagement with the world, President Obama said Wednesday in a sweeping address to the United Nations General Assembly in which he sought to clearly delineate differences between his administration and that of former President George W Bush," The New York Times reported. " 'We have re-engaged the United Nations,' Mr Obama said, to cheers from world leaders and delegates in the cavernous hall of the General Assembly. 'We have paid our bills' - a direct reference to the former administration, which often tied paying its United Nations dues to demands for reforms of the institution. "An array of world leaders sat in the hall for Mr Obama's speech, which was often interrupted by applause and the flashbulbs of cameras going off, including some from delegates in the room. "But even as Mr Obama sought to signal a changed tone in America's dealings with the world, much of his speech centred on old and intractable issues, including Iran's nuclear ambitions and a Middle East peace process. And while his choice of words was different and more conciliatory, the backbone of American policy he expressed remained similar to the Bush administration's in many areas." At Salon, Alex Koppelman noted: "Many of those in the Bush administration, including former UN Ambassador John Bolton, did little to hide their contempt for the international body and tried to minimise its influence in world politics. But throughout his speech..., Obama reached out to the UN, encouraging the organisation to work proactively to make more of an impact. " 'The United States stands ready to begin a new chapter of international cooperation - one that recognises the rights and responsibilities of all nations,' Obama said to applause at the conclusion of his speech." The Washington Post said: "In unusually blunt remarks for a US president at the United Nations, Obama said that Palestinians have 'legitimate claims and rights' and that America's 'unwavering commitment' to Israel's security must be coupled with an insistence that Israel recognise them. But he also said the world must urge Palestinians to 'recognise Israel's legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security.' "Both statements were greeted with warm applause, a reflection of, at least, a new politeness toward the United States' leader. Bush rarely received applause in the chamber, especially toward the end of his tenure." Politico reported: "Obama got a warm and surely unwelcome tribute Wednesday from Libyan leader Moammar Qadhafi, who told the United Nations General Assembly that he would pleased to see the new US president remain in office for life - and even longer. " 'I'm happy that the new president, a son of Africa, governs the United States of America. This is a historic event,' Qadhafi said during a long and rambling address. 'This is a great thing.' " 'Obama is a glimpse in the darkness after four or eight years,' said the Libyan leader, who referred to Obama as 'my son.' 'We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as president of the United States.' " The Washington Post noted that Mr Obama's audience in the UN general assembly "included several foreign leaders his administration is seeking to face down on the diplomatic front, among them Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has rebuffed other countries' calls to stop enriching uranium and has thumbed his nose at criticism of his human rights record, his hostility toward Israel and his support for terrorism. "Ahmadinejad sat without reacting obviously in the fifth row as Obama publicly chided his country for its pursuit of nuclear weapons, saying Iran's actions - and similar efforts by North Korea - 'threaten to take us down this dangerous slope' that makes the whole world less secure. " 'If they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East - then they must be held accountable,' Obama said. 'The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future does not belong to fear.' " Meanwhile, a new opinion poll conducted in Iran indicates that the general population views Mr Obama much more warily than do people in much of the rest of the world. "A new WorldPublicOpinion.org poll of Iranians finds that six in 10 favour restoration of diplomatic relations between their country and the United States, a stance that is directly at odds with the position the Iranian government has held for three decades. A similar number favour direct talks. "However, Iranians do not appear to share the international infatuation with Barack Obama. Only 16 per cent say that they have confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs. This is lower than any of the 20 countries polled by WPO on this question in the spring. Despite his recent speech in Cairo, where Obama stressed that he respects Islam, only a quarter of Iranians are convinced he does. And three in four (77 per cent continue to have an unfavourable view of the United States government. " 'While the majority of Iranian people are ready to do business with Obama, they show little trust in him,' says Steven Kull, director of WPO." In his speech to the UN, Mr Obama said: "We know the future will be forged by deeds and not simply words. Speeches alone will not solve our problems - it will take persistent action. For those who question the character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months." In The Guardian, Steven Hill said: "Europe has been increasingly critical of America's failures to live up to its global responsibilities. The US is not only the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases but is by far the largest per capita emitter of carbon and other pollutants. China comes close to the US in terms of total carbon emissions, but it has four times more people, who each belch far less individually. Europe, while having much the same high living standard, has an 'ecological footprint' that is only half of America's, since Europe has taken leadership in implementing renewable technologies and conservation practices. "On the campaign trail, Barack Obama promised to reverse the Bush administration's terrible ecological record. Yet so far the world has seen more symbolic gestures from the Obama administration than accomplishments. Its biggest achievement so far has been a disappointment. President Obama signed an executive order to increase US motor vehicle mileage standards - but only to a level that will push fuel efficiency by 2020 to a level that European and Japanese cars reached several years ago, and even China has already achieved."

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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