UNITED NATIONS — 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."
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.
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.
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 msnbc.com contributed to this report.