Addressing UN Assembly, US President urges cooperation to combat extremism, renew multilateral system

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, addresses the general debate of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly. UN Photo/Mark Garten

24 September 2014 – With the world at a crossroads “between war and peace, disorder and integration”, United States President Barack Obama today urged cooperation at the United Nations to tackle “two defining questions at the root of many of our challenges”: rebuilding the fractured multilateral system on which the UN is based and “rejecting the cancer of violent extremism” spread by groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“There is a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers, and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces,” Mr. Obama said, noting that right now, “an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa; Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition; and the brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.”

“We come together with a choice to make – we can renew the international system that has brought so much progress or allow ourselves to be pulled back by more and more outbreaks of instability. For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear,” said Mr. Obama, urging a world shaped through collective effort, rejecting fatalism or cynicism.

With “much to be done to meet the text of this moment” he said, firstly, all nations must observe and enforce international norms. In that regard, he flagged Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a challenge to post-war order. “Against the will of the Government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed. Russia poured arms into Eastern Ukraine, fuelling violent separatists and a conflict that has killed thousands…this is a vision of the world in which might makes right.”

Rejecting that vision, he said the US would “reinforce our NATO allies, and uphold our commitment to collective defence. We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history.” He also suggested the path of diplomacy and peace and the ideals the UN is designed to uphold.

Turning to today’s other main challenge, Mr. Obama said: "As we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail such progress…and that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world." Collectively, the world must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by “religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment.”

“The terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed,” he said, emphasizing that the group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria ¬– women and girls had been subjected to rape as a weapon of war; children had been gunned down; religious minorities had been starved to death; and innocent human beings had been beheaded on video.

“No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death,” the President declared.

Emphasizing that the United States would not act alone in that effort or send troops to occupy foreign, he said that instead, his Government would support Iraqis and Syrians fighting to reclaim their communities. “We will use our military might in a campaign of air strikes to roll back ISIL,” he declared, noting that already, over 40 nations have offered to join his country’s coalition against the extremist group.

“Today, I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build – not those who destroy. “


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