WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama called at the United Nations for the launch of comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace negotiations.
The U.S. president in an address Wednesday to the General Assembly also said Iran must be held accountable for its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Obama, outlining his vision for promoting peace, said nuclear disarmament was a key element.
"Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations must face consequences," he said.
Singling out North Korea and Iran, Obama said, "If they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people, if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East, then they must be held accountable."
The United States is leading an effort to rally major powers to commit to sanctioning Iran if negotiations fail to yield a tougher nuclear inspections regime.
Obama also said that his meeting Tuesday with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders was "constructive" even though it failed to produce a commitment to re-launch negotiations.
"The time has come to re-launch negotiations, without preconditions, that address the permanent-status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees and Jerusalem," he said. "The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis, and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people."
The reference to preconditions appeared to target Palestinian negotiators who insist on a total settlement freeze before renewing talks. Obama’s explicit commitment to comprehensive talks rebuts Israeli efforts to confine talks for now to borders.
Obama also said he would seek peace "between Israel and Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and a broader peace between Israel and its many neighbors."
He made clear that there would be a change in tone in how the United States deals with Israel.
"The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians," the U.S. leader said. "And nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security."
The rebuke to nations that attack Israel was significant in that it did not prescribe international recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, although the earlier passage makes it clear the United States regards it as such.
Obama also committed to "securing the peace" in Sudan and Darfur, the Sudanese region where government-backed militias have carried out a genocide.