In his speech yesterday before the U.N., it was as if the President of the United States was telling the General Assembly what was in the inbox on his desk. He spoke about Syria, Iran, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. One conflict which will undoubtedly drag on; one which is getting riper by the day; and one which continues interminably, once again with a twinkle of hope perhaps on the horizon.
It seems that Syria will open up for some inspections, will probably refrain from using chemical weapons—at least for the foreseeable future—and the Russians will emerge as the world’s savior. President Obama, meanwhile, will squirm out of an ugly pickle which could have dramatically changed the calculus in the region, had the U.S. sent missiles in against Syria. Despite Obama’s reiterating U.S. condemnation of Syria’s use of sarin gas and his underscoring U.S. commitment to outlaw the use of all WMD’s, very little light was shed on progress on the actual Syrian crisis—political and humanitarian. Everyone though, including Israel, can breathe a momentary sigh of relief.
On Iran, the President continues the recent U.S. initiative to respond cautiously but positively to Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani’s, apparently more forthcoming interest to engage the U.S. on the nuclear issue. Leaving aside the much too public jockeying about a handshake and a sideline meeting which never occurred; it seems that Kerry and his Iranian counterpart together with the other members of the SC+ 1 will sit with the Iran Foreign Minister later this week. Obama continued to warn against any Iranian moves beyond the U.S. “red line” on nuclear development, but given the President’s actions against Syria, it is unlikely that many in Teheran were shaking upon hearing these words. Similarly, officials in Jerusalem were neither especially enthused by the President nor were they surprised.
With respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict and specifically the Kerry initiated Israel-Palestinian talks, the President appeared to want to put forward as strong and enthusiastic position as possible. He threw his enthusiastic encouragement behind these talks moving ahead, urging timely and effective movement. Here, too, Israel was not surprised nor excited by the President’s remarks, but Netanyahu should have felt that he did receive a clear reiteration by the President that he would have Israel’s back at all times.
There was one interesting headnote in Obama’s speech. He constantly defined the part of the world he was addressing as the Middle East and North Africa; a correct, better, and perceptive change but also very inclusive, intentional, and conscious change.
Speeches are nice; now what!