Dangers of isolationism, Syria top Obama’s last UN address

Email a Friend

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 20, 2016.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RTSOLSP

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

JUDY WOODRUFF:  For the president today, a moment on the world stage at the United Nations one last time, his message no less than an urgent plea to make a better world.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  At this moment, we all face a choice.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It was his final address to the U.N. General Assembly, and President Obama used it to issue a challenge.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration, or we can retreat into a world sharply divided and ultimately in conflict along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The president spoke of a growing contest between authoritarian rule and liberalism, and of people losing faith in the face of terrorism and the refugee crises.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Given the difficulty in forging true democracy in the face of these pressures, it’s no surprise that some argue the future favors the strong man, a top-down model, rather than strong democratic institutions.  But I believe this thinking is wrong.  I believe the road of true democracy remains the better path.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Mr. Obama appealed to the world to do more for the millions fleeing war-torn countries.  And he warned against the politics of Donald Trump, without mentioning the Republican nominee by name.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The world is too small for us to simply be able to build a wall and prevent it from affecting our own societies.

MAN:  The prime minister of the United Kingdom.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Newly named British Prime Minister Theresa May, making her first address at the U.N. after her country’s vote to leave the European Union, said Brexit was not a signal that Britain was retreating from its global responsibilities.

THERESA MAY, Prime Minister, United Kingdom:  They didn’t vote to turn inward or walk away from any of our partners in the world.  Faced with challenges like migration, they demanded a politics that is more in touch with their concerns and bold action to address them.  But that action must be more global, not less.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But for many leaders, Syria topped the agenda.  President Obama aimed strong criticism at the Syrians’ main ally, Russia, for its aggressive moves there and in Ukraine.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In a world that left the age of empire behind, we see Russia attempting to recover lost glory through force.  It may fuel nationalist fervor for a time, but, over time, it’s also going to diminish its stature and make its borders less secure.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also forcefully denounced the Syrian regime, and its main backer, in his last address to the General Assembly.

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General, United Nations:  There is no military solution.  Many groups have killed many innocents, none more so than the government of Syria, which continues to bomb neighborhoods and systematically torture thousands of detainees.  Powerful patrons also have blood on their hands.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  French President Francois Hollande added his own demand to stop the killing in Syria.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through translator):  The Syrian tragedy will be seen by history as a disgrace for the international community if we do not end it quickly.  Thousands of children have died in bombings.  Whole populations are starving.  Humanitarian convoys are being attacked.  Chemical weapons are being used.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined those who called for a solution in Syria, but his main focus was an exiled cleric in the U.S., Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan and his government accuse of fomenting the failed July coup.

PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkey (through translator):  I am calling, from this podium, to all of our friends to swiftly take the necessary measures against the Gulenist terrorist organization for their own safety and the future of their nations.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The General Assembly continues through next Monday.

The post Dangers of isolationism, Syria top Obama’s last UN address appeared first on PBS NewsHour.