In UN speech, Obama backs diplomacy in Syria, keeps military option

US President Barack Obama speaks during the 68th

US President Barack Obama speaks during the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. (Sept. 24, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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UNITED NATIONS -- President Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly Tuesday that a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war is possible but the United States reserves the right "to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region."

In the 45-minute address at the UN General Assembly before 193 heads of state and government and other diplomats, Obama focused mainly on hot zones in the Middle East and acknowledged Saturday's terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya, as well as Pakistan and Iraq.

Obama outlined his administration's doctrine for the war-torn region, which he said included an openness to better relations with Iran and cautious support for a less volatile Egypt. He also reiterated his earlier calls for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama said an agreement with Russia that involves the UN overseeing the dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal and recent overtures from Iran for a normalization of relations with the United States were positive signs. But despite diplomatic efforts that have headed off a threatened U.S. military strike against Syria for now, Obama told the gathering there is no disputing the regime of president Bashar Assad used the weapons to target enemy forces.

With Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja'afari, in the audience, Obama even suggested the UN's credibility rests in the belief that Assad was behind the attacks and that disarming Syria is key to long-term peace.

"The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on Aug. 21," Obama said. "It is an insult to human reason . . . to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack."

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Even with the strong words, Obama praised Syria's compliance with the plan to remove the regime's chemical weapons while keeping open the option of military force if Syria falters.

Obama said the United States would commit $340 million to the humanitarian effort in Syria as a result of the country's ongoing civil war to go along with the $1 billion committed so far.

On the often bloody turmoil in Egypt, where a military coup ousted president Mohammed Morsi in July, Obama took a measured but wait-and-see approach toward future relations.

"The United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counterterrorism," he said. "We will continue support in areas like education. . . . But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt's progress in pursuing a democratic path."

Obama said he was committed to resolving obstacles in creating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel's security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state . . . Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state."

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