Exhorting world leaders to push past years of cynicism and pessimism, President Barack Obama challenged the countries of the United Nations on Thursday to unite around peace efforts that he said could achieve agreement within a year to create an independent Palestine and a secure Israel.
Obama, in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, urged fellow world leaders to press forward with renewed determination in the quest for Mideast peace, an effort that he acknowledged has encountered "few peaks and many valleys."
Without an agreement, he said, "more blood will be shed" and "this Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity."
Obama's one year ambitious timeline
As Obama spoke, Israel's seat in the hall sat empty because it was a Jewish holiday. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was present, listening to the president through a translator's earphone. Obama's call for a Palestinian state drew a burst of applause from throughout the hall.
Obama's one-year timeline is ambitious even if the Mideast peace process faced the best of circumstances, which it does not. He made no mention of the militant Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip and refuses to accept Israel's right to exist.
The failure of past peace efforts has left both sides with rigid demands and public ambivalence about the value of a negotiated settlement.
Obama spoke with resolve of the need to address trouble spots around the world, but he tended first to the economic concerns that abound both at home and abroad.
"There is much to show for our efforts," he said, recalling the economic turmoil of years past. "We cannot -- and will not -- rest until these seeds of progress grow into a broader prosperity for all Americans and for people around the globe."
On a pressing security issue, Obama defended his administration's approach to engaging Iran in negotiations over its nuclear program -- an effort that has failed thus far. In July the administration imposed a new set of sanctions on Iran.
"The door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it," he said. "But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program."
Iran recently has indicated interest in restarting talks with the West, and on Wednesday the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany offered Iran another chance to enter negotiations. Iranian state TV quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who was in New York, as saying that Iran is ready to resume the talks but the negotiations must be fair.
Obama also spoke to the promotion of human rights, open government and democracy -- familiar themes from a president who has pushed for international cooperation against repression and tyranny.
"Make no mistake: The ultimate success of democracy in the world won't come because the United States dictates it. It will come because individual citizens demand a say in how they are governed," he said. "There is no soil where this cannot take root."
Obama drew applause in mentioning U.N. efforts to protect the rights of women, and he urged all nations to act against oppression.
Iran's accusation of the US
The United States Thursday slammed a U.N. speech by Ahmadinejad which raised allegations of U.S. involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks as "abhorrent and delusional."
"Rather than representing the aspirations and goodwill of the Iranian people, Mr. Ahmadinejad has yet again chosen to spout vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs that are as abhorrent and delusional as they are predictable," said Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. mission at the United Nations.
Palestinians will consider compromise: Officials
Hopes of averting a breakdown in Middle East peace talks grew Thursday as senior Palestinian officials said their side would consider an expected U.S.-brokered compromise on Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank.
At issue is the 10-month-old Israeli slowdown on settlement building - a near-halt to new projects aimed at coaxing the Palestinians into talks with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The restrictions expire Sunday, only weeks after U.S.-sponsored talks were finally launched amid much fanfare. As the deadline looms the region has grown increasingly tense, fearing not only a collapse of the brittle peace effort but perhaps a return to violence as well - fears stoked by a bout of Palestinian rioting Wednesday near key Jerusalem holy sites.
The so-called settlement "moratorium" is far from a freeze on building, because thousands of housing units whose construction preceded November 2009 were allowed to continue under its self-declared terms. But with several notable exceptions, new projects were not launched. The Palestinians want this extended, and the United States publicly backs the demand.
Iran likely to meet world powers on nuclear deal on October
"If President Obama wants to be perceived as an honest broker in this process, he should make clear to Abbas and his colleagues that threats, blackmail and preconditions are not acceptable," it said in a statement.
Iran says nuclear talks with world powers likely in October
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Iran is likely to hold talks with world powers over its nuclear program in October, the ISNA news agency quoted him as saying on Thursday.
Under the deal, Iran would ship most of its low-grade uranium to France and Russia so that it could be enriched further and returned to Iran to fuel a medical research reactor in Tehran.
The deal had been designed to buy time and build confidence while the world community presses Iran to meet its demand to halt uranium enrichment, a program western powers fear masks a drive for a nuclear bomb.
But the deal stalled as Iran sought to modify its terms.
In June, the UN Security Council then approved a fourth round of sanctions against the Islamic republic, which in turn said it would suspend talks until September.
The chief diplomats for the six powers had "committed themselves" to the full implementation of the new sanctions, the senior U.S. official said.
In Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday signed a decree banning supplies of S-300 missiles and other arms to Iran, in line with the tougher military and financial sanctions adopted in June.
The United States, which spearheaded the drive for the sanctions, has long argued that Iran will only return to the negotiating table once it feels them bite.
Iran has denied U.S. contentions that the Islamic republic is starting to feel the pinch.
The six powers renewed calls for Iran to comply with international demands to fully open up its nuclear facilities to inspection and halt uranium enrichment.
Israel welcomes Obama speech but settlers slam it
A senior Israeli official on Thursday welcomed Obama's speech at the U.N. General Assembly, saying it had recognized his country's historic legitimacy, public radio reported.
It quoted the unidentified official as saying that the comments were also noteworthy because Obama had made no mention of a further moratorium on settlement construction being a precondition for peace talks continuing.
But the Yesha Council of Jewish settlers blasted Obama's speech, saying that he had given in to "Palestinian threats."
The senior official said Obama's "speech is balanced and aims at satisfying the two sides," Israelis and Palestinians, to continue their peace talks, the radio reported.
The two sides relaunched US-mediated direct peace talks this month after a 20-month hiatus.
However, Abbas has threatened to walk out of the talks if Israel continues settlement building once a partial moratorium comes to an end days from now.
Obama's speech "did not make continuation of the moratorium on construction on settlements an imperative condition of negotiations," the radio quoted the official as saying.
The U.S. president said in his speech that "Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people."
Israel insists that any peace deal include a clause recognizing it as a state for Jewish people. The Palestinians oppose this, fearing it could be used to stop the return of Palestinian refugees.
"It should be clear to all that efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States," Obama said.
Meanwhile, the Yesha Council which represents settlers in the occupied West Bank said Obama's speech showed that he was "giving in to Palestinian threats to walk out of the negotiating table if their preconditions are not met.