Image: US President Barack Obama speaks to the
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President Barack Obama speaks to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.
NBC, and news services
updated 9/23/2010 11:14:01 AM ET 2010-09-23T15:14:01

President Barack Obama told the U.N. General Assembly in a Thursday speech that killing Israelis "will do nothing to help the Palestinian people."

During a speech in which he put himself forward as an international statesman who has re-engaged the United States with the world after years of perceived neglect, the president also called on Israel to extend its moratorium on settlements.

"Israel's settlement moratorium has made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks," Obama said. "Our position on this issue is well known. We believe that the moratorium should be extended."

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The president stressed that if the current round of Mideast peace talks fail, the "Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity."

"If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state," he said. "Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to co-existence. The hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed."

"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," he told the United Nations. "And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people — the slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance, it is injustice."

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"Make no mistake: the courage of a man like (Palestinian) President (Mahmoud) Abbas — who stands up for his people in front of the world — is far greater than those who fire rockets at innocent women and children."

Nancy Soderberg, who was appointed one of the U.S. representatives to the U.N. by President Bill Clinton, said she was struck that Obama spent as much time as he did on the Mideast peace process during the speech.

Story: What to watch for at the U.N.: World leaders who dislike U.S.

It was "really a very broad call to action for the world to step up to the plate," she said on MSNBC.

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Obama's speech comes less than a month after Israelis and Palestinians resumed peace negotiations. Those talks are already facing possible collapse over Israel's plans to end its 10-month slowdown of construction in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank.

Memorable moments

The "moratorium" on construction was declared last November under intense U.S. pressure to help coax the Palestinians into talks with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who — despite having accepted the principle of a Palestinian state — inspires very little faith in the Palestinians.

Netanyahu said all along that the moratorium would end on Sunday, and the Palestinians have threatened to walk away from the talks if this occurs.

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The address was the president's second to the world body. Obama will also meet privately with the leaders of China, Japan, Colombia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

'Door remains open to diplomacy'
During his speech, Obama also emphasized the efforts his administration is making to promote peace and stability from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Middle East, while countering nuclear concerns in Iran and North Korea.

On Iran, Obama said the United States is open to diplomacy with the Islamic Republic but it must prove that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

"The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it," Obama told the annual gathering.

"But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program," he said.

Obama also touched on Afghanistan and global terrorism, saying that the United States was "waging a more effective fight" against al-Qaida, as the fight in Iraq is drawn down.

The U.S. is now focused on defeating al-Qaida, and keeping the terror group's affiliates from getting a "safe haven."

Obama told the gathering that U.S. and allied forces are working to break the Taliban's momentum in Afghanistan, and to prepare the Afghan government to start taking responsibility for its own security next year.

NBC News, The Associated Press, Reuters and contributed to this report.

Video: Obama makes plea for Middle East peace

  1. Transcript of: Obama makes plea for Middle East peace

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Earlier in the day President Obama had his turn at the podium and he had a lot to say about the global economy, US relations with China , the Middle East peace process . But it wasn't just a day for diplomacy, there were some domestic issues to deal with as well. Our White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie here in New York covering the president tonight, as well. Savannah , good evening.

    SAVANNAH GUTHRIE reporting: Good evening, Brian . Well, as you say, on foreign policy today was the main event. The president addressed the full UN assembly , a speech that covered the terrain of US foreign policy , but it was striking how much time he devoted to the issue of Middle East peace, making clear he's willing to put it on the line for an issue that has bedeviled so many of his predecessors. At the UN today, the president leaned hard on world leaders to finally achieve a long elusive goal in the Middle East .

    President BARACK OBAMA: We all have a choice to make. Each of us must choose the path of peace.

    GUTHRIE: But at the very moment the president was laying out his foreign policy goals, his political opponents were rolling out their domestic agenda.

    Representative KEVIN McCARTHY (Republican, California): Americans across this country are outraged and so are we.

    GUTHRIE: At a hardware store in Sterling , Virginia , just outside Washington , House Republicans unveiled their plan to change Washington .

    Representative JEB HENSARLING (Republican, Texas): Stop, stop out of control spending and actually reduce the size of our government.

    GUTHRIE: Borrowing the concept from the 1994 Contract with America that helped sweep them to power, the Republicans ' Pledge to America promises to repeal the new health care law and replace it with a smaller plan, make the Bush tax cuts permanent for all taxpayers, cut Congress ' operating budget and freeze spending at 2008 levels, cutting $100 billion per year. But Republicans were forced to acknowledge today when they actually had power they didn't always live up to their own ideals.

    Representative JOHN BOEHNER (House Minority Leader): Listen, when Republicans were in charge of Congress , we made our fair share of mistakes. I think we've demonstrated over the last 20 months that Republicans have heard the American people .

    GUTHRIE: Democrats ripped the Pledge to America as nothing more than barely warmed over ideas from the Bush years.

    Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democrat, South Carolina): If this is implemented, what we are going to see is the infliction of a plague on America .

    GUTHRIE: Back in New York , even in front of Democratic supporters Wednesday night, the president encountered an audience not altogether friendly, interrupted multiple times by AIDS protesters.

    Pres. OBAMA: We've increased aids funding. I don't know why you're putting the sign up.

    GUTHRIE: Today the drama unfolded behind the scenes as the president pressed China 's Premier Wen Jiabao to do more to reform its currency. The US believes China keeps its currency artificially low so its goods are cheaper, hurting US business. Well, tomorrow there will be a key vote in a congressional committee to crack down on China . And one other note from here, Brian , late today the president introduced his wife, first lady Michelle Obama , at an event at the Clinton Global Initiative . Her pitch today, urging American businesses to hire military veterans and their spouses.

    WILLIAMS: Which has been her cause for so long. Savannah Guthrie , thanks, while covering the president

Explainer: Leaders who dislike the U.S.

  • Image: Castro speaking
    Getty Images
    Former Cuban President Fidel Castro before the U.N. General Assembly in 1960.

    From meandering rants to impassioned speeches, world leaders have used the annual U.N. General Debate to launch attacks against the United States.

    Take Fidel Castro, for example. In 1960, the former Cuban president unleashed a record-setting four-hour, 29-minute speech in which he denounced the U.S.

    On Thursday, representatives of 192 countries will gather at the U.N. General Assembly in New York for this year's General Debate. Once again, some may use the forum to take on America.

    Leaders to watch: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Cuba’s Raul Castro and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

    Click on next, or scroll down, to find out who likened former President Ronald Reagan to Rambo, who quipped to the U.N. that it "doesn't smell like sulfur anymore" and who delivered a tirade so exhausting even his personal interpreter passed out.

  • Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

     Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
    Don Emmert  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    Beef with the U.S.: There are many, but sanctions against Tehran over nuclear technology is a top issue.

    Background: In the past, Ahmadinejad has used the general debate as a forum to defend Iran's nuclear program and assail its arch foes Israel and the United States, typically prompting walkouts by the U.S. and some European countries.

    Since the 1979 revolution that overthrew Iran's monarchy, Tehran and Washington have had no official relationship, a rift widened amid concerns about Iran's nuclear program and its human rights record.

    A Holocaust denier, Ahmadinejad accuses "Zionists" of preventing U.S. President Barack Obama from improving relations with Iran.

    Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said that Iran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and that it would not buckle to U.S. pressure to halt plans for further nuclear development.

    He has scoffed at U.N. sanctions imposed on his country over its nuclear stance. The sanctions have limited Iran's ability to attract foreign investment, pinched its ability to import gasoline, created a drag on its shipping business and hurt Iranian banking relationships worldwide.

  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

    Hugo Chavez
    Timothy A. Clary  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

    Beef with U.S.: SaysU.S. government is "first enemy" of Venezuela.

    Background: Chavez has a long history of attacking U.S. policy.

    At the General Assembly in 2006, he called former President George W. Bush "the devil" no fewer than eight times.

    "The devil is right at home. The devil, the devil himself, is right in the house. And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the devil came here. Right here. And it smells of sulphur still today," he said.

    The populist leader of a self-declared "socialist revolution," Chavez supports Cuba economically and politically. 

    Recently, Chavez softened his stance toward Obama. Recalling his "devil" speech, Chavez told the U.N., "It doesn't smell of sulfur. It's gone. It smells of something else. It smells of hope and you have hope in your heart."

    He has denounced capitalism as being a chief cause of climate change and accused Obama of making lofty promises and failing to live up to them.

  • Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe

    Robert Mugabe
    Michael Nagle  /  Getty Images
    President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe

    Beef with the U.S.: Sanctions imposed on the African nation.

    Background: He has lashed out repeatedly against Western powers, telling them to go "to hell" over sanctions imposed on his ZANU-PF party.

    The United States and European Union imposed sanctions on state firms and travel restrictions on Mugabe and dozens of his associates nearly 10 years ago, after a violent re-election campaign and often violent commercial farm seizures.

    "We say to hell, to hell, hell with them," Mugabe said in August. "Sanctions must go, and they must go. They are hurting our people regardless of political affiliation."

    The 86-year-old leader said he hoped Obama and new British Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg would move to mend ties between Harare and the West.

    "They have imposed unjustified and illegal sanctions on us. The sanctions are comparable to the military aggression in Iraq," he said.

    Meanwhile, Obama said he has been "heartbroken" by Zimbabwe's decline.

    Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing pact with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, more than a year ago after a crisis over a 2008 national vote that observers say was marred by violence and fraud.

  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega

    Daniel Ortega
    Spencer Platt  /  Getty Images
    Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega

    Beef with the U.S.: He says the U.S. is a worldwide dictatorship.

    Background: Since emerging as the leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front during the Reagan years, Ortega has railed against what he views as U.S. hegemony. He has defended Iran's and North Korea's right to pursue nuclear technology.

    In 1987, the Nicaraguan president addressed the world body as the Marxist leader of Nicaragua's Sandinista-run government.

    He slammed U.S. policy in Central America and told then-President Ronald Reagan that "Rambo only exists in the movies." Reagan referred to Ortega as "the little dictator."

    In 2007, Ortega said little had changed since his first visit to the U.N.

    "The presidents of the U.S. change. And they may come to office with the greatest of intentions and they may feel that they are doing good for humanity, but they fail to understand that they are no more than instruments of one more empire in a long list of empires that have been imposed on our planet,” Ortega said, waving his arms.

    The world is under "the most impressive, huge dictatorship that has existed — the empire of North America," he said.

    He defended North Korean and Iran in their push for nuclear technology. Said Ortega: "And even if they want nuclear power for purposes that are not peaceful, with what right does (the U.S.) question it?"

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales

    Image: Evo Morales
    Stan Honda  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Evo Morales, president of Bolivia

    Beef with the U.S.: Accuses U.S. of protecting and promoting drug trade.

    Background: Bolivia's first indigenous president, a fierce critic of Washington and global capitalism, wants to reverse centuries-old inequities in his country, which has long been dominated by light-skinned descendants of Europeans. The indigenous minority didn't have the vote until 1952.

    Morales is a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In promoting a socialist agenda, he nationalized control of Bolivia's natural gas reserves in 2006, alienating many investors and further polarizing South America's poorest nation.

    Two years ago, Bolivia kicked out the U.S. ambassador, accusing him of conspiring against the government. All U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents and other personnel also were expelled.

  • Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi

    Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi
    Mario Tama  /  Getty Images
    Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi

    Beef with the U.S.: Accuses U.S. of controlling the U.N. Security Council.

    Background: Gadhafi made his first appearance at the U.N. last year. He slammed the Security Council and chastised the world body for failing to intervene or prevent some 65 wars since the U.N. was founded in 1945.

    Gadhafi called for reform of the U.N. Security Council, which has 15 members, including the United States, and leads the world body's mandate to maintain international peace.

    "It should not be called the Security Council, it should be called the 'terror council,'" he said. "Hence, the Security Council has been reduced to one country which controls it, therefore forming a danger to world peace."

    Tensions were high following Scotland's release of Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, in which 270 people died.

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice left before Gadhafi even took the podium. Israel's U.N. delegation walked out during the speech.

    Iran's president also left before the speech ended.

    Ninety minutes into Gadhafi's 96-minute speech, an exhausted English-language interpreter passed out and was relieved by another translator.

  • Cuban President Raul Castro

    Image: Raul Castro
    Desmond Boylan  /  Reuters
    Cuba's President Raul Castro

    Beef with U.S.: Sees U.S. as enemy since 1959 Cuban revolution.

    Background: When Cuba's parliament named Raul Castro president in 2008, it ended nearly 50 years of rule by his brother Fidel but left the island's communist system unshaken.

    The United States and Cuba have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1961, though Washington is represented by a U.S. interest section in Havana.

    Since 2009, Obama has eased travel and remittance restrictions imposed by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and resumed migration talks and direct postal service with the island.


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