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09/21/13

Obama UN Speech to Cover Syria, Chemical Weapons, Iran, Arab Transformations

By Dan Robinson, VOA

WHITE HOUSE - Syria's civil war and the use of chemical weapons, Iran's nuclear program, and transformations in the Arab world will be key topics in U.S. President Barack Obama's address next Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly. Recent statements by Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, about a desire to increase cooperation and engagement have increased speculation about a possible meeting with Obama.

According to the White House, no such meeting is planned, although officials reiterate Obama's longstanding willingness to consider direct bilateral contacts if they hold potential for diplomatic solutions.

Rouhani's engagement

Rouhani has said Iran is not seeking to build nuclear weapons and will under no circumstances "seek any weapons of mass destruction."

In a Washington Post opinion piece, he spoke of pursuing constructive dialogue with world powers.

The White House attributes the Iranian outreach to unity by the international community, and the impact of sanctions, to pressure Iran to clarify details of its nuclear program.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes reiterated that the United States is open to engagement with Iran's government, although there is no "open-ended window" for diplomacy. He also said the U.S. believes talks with Iran need to move forward on a multilateral basis.

"We also very strongly believe that the forum for resolving this issue includes the P5+1, given the international unity we have built with Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany on this issue, so even as we indicated an openness to dialogue with the Iranians, we have made the P5+1 a forum for these discussions with the Iranians," said Rhodes.

Focus on Mideast, North Africa

In his speech to the General Assembly, Obama will focus on events and U.S. interests in the Middle East and North Africa, providing what Rhodes said will be an update on America's approach.

Syria will be a key part of that, including a call for the international community to take a firm position against the use of chemical weapons.

"He will reinforce the need for the international community to stand strongly against the use of chemical weapons, and continue to argue for a clear diplomatic process to put Assad's chemical weapons under international control and ultimately destroy them, including our support for a U.N. Security Council resolution that enforces consequences on the Assad regime should they fail to cooperate with the international community in that effort," said Rhodes.

At the same time, Obama will underscore the importance of a political solution to the Syrian civil war, one Rhodes said cannot include President Bashar al-Assad.

Obama also will point to the direct talks Israel and Palestinians are holding on final status issues. He meets Tuesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The president's schedule at this point includes two other formal bilateral meetings, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, and President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon.

The talks with Lebanon's president will focus on refugee flows from Syria and support for Lebanon's democratic process.

With Nigeria's president, Obama will discuss economic issues, preparations for Nigerian elections, and security cooperation as Nigeria contends with threats from militant group Boko Haram and a northern insurgency.

Obama also will host an event focusing attention on growing challenges and restrictions on civil society around the globe.

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