BARACK Obama pledged last night that the age of unilateral American action on the world stage was now over.
Addressing the United Nations general assembly for the first time, the US president insisted his country wanted a new era of engagement with the rest of the world.
In a firm break with the attitudes of the Bush administration, Obama called for the global community to come together to combat the four key challenges facing the world — disarmament, spreading peace, combating climate change and rebuilding the shattered economy.
To repeated applause, Obama offered unusually strong American words on illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands, acknowledged his country had not always backed democratic movements in the Third World and pledged to end “extreme poverty”.
“The US stands ready to begin a new chapter of international co-operation — one that recognises the rights and responsibilities of all nations,” he said as he urged international leaders to join him, saying the US could not shoulder the responsibility alone.
“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,” he said.
The reception will boost Obama’s standing as he chairs a special meeting of the Security Council today which aims to try and control the spread of nuclear weapons. Obama will then leave for Pittsburgh where he will head a gathering of the G20 group of the world’s key economies tasked with ending the slump.
Highlighting the often stormy nature of the general assembly, the next person to speak after Obama was Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who used the opportunity to denounce the US and other western powers for using the UN for their own goals.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe — all fierce critics of America were also addressing the gathering and not expected to take Obama’s promises at face value.
Obama used his address to outline the progress he believes is possible via global co-operation, such as ending the war in Afghanistan and halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle and Far East.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, both attending this week’s UN meetings denied Obama a diplomatic coup he had hoped for — rebuffing his efforts to reinvigorate stalled Middle East peace talks in time for his UN debut.
The Bush administration adopted a cold war-style attitude to the UN, bypassing it when it sought to invade Iraq on the pretext of claims the country harboured weapons of mass destruction.
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