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'Your move' : Obama to world after engagement push

By Stephen Collinson
Thu Sep 24 04:13:31 EST 2009
Wed Sep 23 18:13:31 UTC 2009

WASHINGTON, Sept 23 AFP - US President Barack Obama sent a clear message to the world on Wednesday: he is looking for payback for his swift action in ending an era of swaggering US unilateralism.

Obama's debut speech to the UN General Assembly marked a pivot point in the new administration's emerging foreign policy and an attempt to seek dividends from a new style of muscular engagement through multilateral fora.

As leaders of US allies and foes looked on, measuring the weight of the new US president's words and capacity to implement a sweeping foreign policy agenda, Obama injected steel into his trademark smooth rhetoric.

And, as in his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in June, and on other early trips abroad, Obama -- repeatedly using the pronoun "I" -- traded on his own global popularity and spoke over the heads of leaders to their people.

"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," Obama said in the United Nations chamber in New York.

"We have sought, in word and deed, a new era of engagement with the world. Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response, to global challenges."

Obama spoke as several international crises reach a critical point, including the effort to thwart Iran's nuclear program, with talks between world powers and Tehran due on October 1.

Washington faces a tough sell with China and Russia on its effort to frame crippling sanctions should Iran fail to throw open the doors of the program.

And despite repairing transatlantic divides, it has also failed to win substantial promises of troops from NATO partners for the unpopular war in Afghanistan.

And after nine months in power, and despite the new US approach, Obama so far has few foreign policy achievements to showcase on engaging US enemies and on the Middle East peace process.

While ex-president George W Bush moderated the unilateralism of his first term towards the end of his presidency, Obama on Wednesday used his predecessor's White House as a benchmark to be measured against.

He challenged leaders to defy their own foreign policy orthodoxies as he had done.

"That is Obama's style, to not ask others to do something he will not do and lead on himself," said Linda Jamison, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Jamison added however that the "jury is still out" on how effective Obama will be in living up to its promise to engage multilaterally in a world of mounting diplomatic challenges.

It is also clear that other nations, pursuing their own national interests, may not define multilateralism, common goals and benefits as Obama does.

An Obama administration official said that the president believed that reengaging in multilateral fora, or tackling issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was primarily in US interests.

But he also said the president wanted to remind other nations they must play their part.

"For international cooperation to work, nations must live up to their responsibilities," the official said.

"We are now living up to ours, both in terms of our actions and our commitment to address these challenges through multilateral initiatives like the (nuclear non-proliferation treaty), the UN Security Council, and the G20.

"Other nations must do their part as well."

Making his case, Obama started his speech with a list of "deeds" he had made to back up his words, since coming to office -- clearly playing on his own personal popularity abroad.

"I prohibited ... the use of torture ... I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed ... I have outlined a comprehensive agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons ... I appointed an envoy for Middle East peace ...," Obama said.

He then issued a call to action from others: "Make no mistake: this cannot be solely America's endeavour."

The speech was also aimed at domestic political critics, including Republicans who accuse him of embarking on global "apology tours".

He hit out at "reflexive anti-Americanism" around the world before adding, that he would never apologise for defending his nation's interests.

"But it is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 -- more than at any point in human history -- the interests of nations and peoples are shared."