US President Barack Obama was to step onto the world stage yesterday just long enough to address simmering crises centered on Iran, Syria and the broader Muslim world — and then jump quickly back on the campaign trail.
Obama was expected to talk tough with nuclear-defiant Iran, take Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to task for efforts to crush an 18-month uprising and reflect on a recent eruption of violent anti-American protests in Muslim countries, aides said.
With campaign pressures building in a close race, Obama’s final turn on the world stage before facing voters has left little doubt about his immediate priorities.
Obama planned to be in and out of New York in 24 hours, one of the briefest presidential visits to the annual UN session in recent memory, and he will be off to the election battleground state of Ohio today.
Obama was scheduled to take the UN podium after a wave of Muslim anger over an anti-Islam movie swept the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, and an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, claimed the lives of the ambassador and three other Americans.
This has confronted Obama with the worst setback yet in his efforts to keep the Arab Spring revolutions from turning sharply against the US — and has underscored that he has few good options to prevent it.
The unsettled climate surrounding Obama’s UN visit is a stark reminder that the heady optimism that greeted him when he took office promising to be a transformational statesman has cooled.
Obama, in his speech, was to face the delicate task of articulating US distaste for insults to any religion while at the same time insisting there is no excuse for a violent reaction — a distinction rejected by many devout Muslims.
Obama’s UN visit comes at a time of mounting tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
He has refused demands from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to set an explicit “red line” for Tehran.
Signaling that a rift remains between the two close allies, Obama said in a interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes program that he would ignore “noise that’s out there” and make decisions based on US interests.
Underscoring the depth of the problem, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in New York on Monday that Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be “eliminated,” ignoring a UN warning to avoid his usual incendiary rhetoric ahead of the annual UN General Assembly session.
The White House quickly dismissed the comments by Ahmadinejad, who will address the assembly today, as “disgusting, offensive and outrageous.”
Obama was expected to use his speech to renew a warning that Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and his words will be scrutinized to see how far he goes in sharpening his tone.
Netanyahu has shown growing impatience over Obama’s entreaties to hold off on attacking Iran’s nuclear sites to give sanctions and diplomacy more time to work.