President Barack Obama today hit back at critics who blame America for the world’s ills and demanded other countries join his efforts to solve them.
“Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone,” Mr Obama said in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
The White House released excerpts in advance that carried a remarkably blunt tone.
It comes in Mr Obama’s first speech to the world body, a forum like no other for a leader hoping to wash away any lasting images of US unilateralism under George Bush.
In essence, Mr Obama’s message is that he expects plenty in return for reaching out.
“We have sought in word and deed a new era of engagement with the world,” Mr Obama said, echoing the co-operative theme he promised as a candidate and has since used as a pillar of his foreign policy. “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility.”
He said if the world is honest with itself, it has fallen woefully short.
“Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world,” Mr Obama said. “Protracted conflicts that grind on and on. Genocide and mass atrocities. More and more nations with nuclear weapons. Melting ice caps and ravaged populations. Persistent poverty and pandemic disease.”
The president added, “I say this not to sow fear, but to state a fact: the magnitude of our challenges has yet to be met by the measure of our action.”
Mr Obama’s speech is the centerpiece of a day in which he was also holding pivotal meetings with the new Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Mr Obama foreshadowed his message to world leaders in a speech yesterday to the Clinton Global Initiative. He spoke of nations interconnected by problems, whether a flu strain or an economic collapse or a drug trade that crosses borders.
“Just as no nation can wall itself off from the world, no one nation – no matter how large, no matter how powerful – can meet these challenges alone,” Mr Obama said.
“The United States has dramatically changed the tone, the substance and the practice of our diplomacy at the United Nations,” said Susan Rice, Mr Obama’s ambassador to the UN.
Mr Obama needs the help of Russia and China in getting tougher UN action against Iran for its potential nuclear weapons programme, and neither country is showing interest.
The good-will feeling of Mr Obama’s fresh government is apparent at the United Nations.
But eight months into his presidency, the problems he inherited are now his own, upping expectations for results. His White House is being pressed to right the war in Afghanistan. And his efforts toward diplomacy with adversaries, chiefly Iran and North Korea, are not meant to be open-ended.